Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of the White House outreach on the war in Gaza

President and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati, second from left, invites American Muslims citizens to register to vote after thousands gathered to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (AP)
President and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati, second from left, invites American Muslims citizens to register to vote after thousands gathered to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 13 April 2024
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Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of the White House outreach on the war in Gaza

Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of the White House outreach on the war in Gaza
  • “No matter what happens, we will continue to stand firm against Israel’s barbaric attacks on Gaza and Israel will pay the price for this cruelty,” Altun reported Erdogan as saying

WASHINGTON: Osama Siblani was sipping his morning coffee at the office when his phone buzzed with a message from one of President Joe Biden’s advisers. As publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn, Michigan, Siblani serves as an occasional sounding board, and the White House wanted to know what he thought of Biden’s recent call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After months of mounting concerns over the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, Biden had publicly, albeit vaguely, threatened to cut US assistance to Israel’s military operations in the Hamas-controlled territory.




Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News is photographed in his office, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Dearborn, Mich. (AP)

“This is baby steps,” Siblani said he responded. “What we need is giant steps rather than baby steps.”
The text exchange is an example of the behind-the-scenes communication that the White House has nurtured at a time of anger at the Democratic president over his support for Israel. Such informal contacts have become more important as some Muslim and Arab American leaders have turned down opportunities to talk with Biden or his advisers, frustrated by the sense their private conversations and public anguish have done little or nothing to persuade him to change course.
The White House says it is keeping an open door for difficult conversations, but it can be hard to get people to walk through.
“All they are trying to do is convince us that there is some kind of movement toward where we want,” Siblani said. “But it’s too slow and it’s dragging. It’s more death and casualties that are happening.”




A Muslim man prays to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (AP)

The highest-profile example of the stonewalling came last week when a Palestinian American doctor walked out of a meeting with Biden. But interviews with Muslim and Arab American leaders reveal how that face-to-face protest was only the most conspicuous case of a fracture that has damaged crucial relationships and closed avenues needed to repair them.
“What more can we tell the White House for them to change course? I’ve run out of words,” said Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, who met with senior officials in February but has not had any contact with them since then.
Dan Koh, deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, said the administration wants “to make sure we’re as accessible as possible.”




CEO of Emgage Wa'el Alzayat poses for a photograph in Chevy Chase, Md., Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP)

“We understand that some people do not want to engage. We respect that,” he said. “But we think that the people who have engaged have felt that it was a fruitful discussion.”
Top White House officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, senior adviser Anita Dunn and chief of staff Jeff Zients, have been involved in the outreach. Biden is briefed on their conversations, and Vice President Kamala Harris has talked with Muslims, Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans.
The White House believes it still can find receptive audiences, such as a recent series of meetings with Lebanese Americans that focused on efforts to prevent the conflict from expanding along Israel’s northern border, where Hezbollah operates.




President and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati, far right, gets ready to address American Muslims after a prayer in Los Angeles Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (AP)

But the situation presents a challenge for a president who believes in the political power of personal relationships and has prized his history of sitting down with opponents and critics. It could also jeopardize his reelection this year, with some Muslims warning they are unwilling to support Biden even it that risks returning Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, to the White House.
Salam Al-Marayati, who lives in Los Angeles and leads the Muslim Public Affairs Council, described the attitude as, “Forget them. They have to learn a lesson. And if they lose, that’s the lesson they should learn.”
His disillusionment with Biden began soon after the war started on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack. The president described himself as a Zionist during a trip to Israel later that month, emphasizing his belief in the importance of a Jewish state as a guarantee of security for people who have historically been persecuted around the world.
Al-Marayati heard the statement differently.
“What it meant was, he doesn’t care for the Palestinian people and their displacement,” he said.
Al-Marayati and members of his organization did participate in meetings with officials from the National Security Council and the State Department, but he soured on the conversations.
“We realized they were not listening,” Al-Marayati said. “Maybe they were nodding when we were speaking, but they were continuing with the same policy.”
With the war entering its seventh month, Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza-based Ministry of Health, an agency in the Hamas-controlled government.
US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota who is Muslim, said it’s still important to support Biden as a shield against the return of Trump, saying “our democracy is on the line.”
But when it comes to the war, Omar said, Biden “is not where we need him to be at the moment, and it is our job to push him, and to get him where we need him to be.”
“It is incredibly hard to have any sort of conversation when there isn’t any policy change coming out of the White House in regards to stopping weapons from being delivered into Israel,” she said.
That is a step that Biden has been unwilling to take, though he has moved closer to that line. After Biden’s most recent call with Netanyahu, the White House said the president “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action” to protect civilians and allow increased humanitarian assistance.
The conversation came two days after Biden met with Muslim leaders at the White House. Officials had originally tried to arrange an iftar meal, where Biden could join Muslims as they broke their daily fast for Ramadan after sunset. But too many people refused invitations, turned off by the thought of eating with Biden at the same time he is supporting Israeli military operations that have pushed Palestinians to the brink of famine.
The White House changed its plans and hosted a private meeting about the war. One of the guests was Thaer Ahmad, a Palestinian American doctor from Chicago who has volunteered in Gaza. Angry over the continued flow of US weapons to Israel, Ahmad stood up during the meeting and told Biden he was walking out.
Among the leaders who have kept talking with the administration is Wa’el Alzayat, who lives in the Washington, D.C.-area and heads the advocacy organization Emgage. The former US State Department official said he texts or calls senior officials to relay sentiments from the Muslim and Arab American communities and push for a ceasefire.
Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said he last met with administration officials in February, and they have reached out to ask his thoughts since then. His city has the largest Muslim population per capita in the country, and Hammoud said he always is willing to talk if “there’s a conversation to be had that can lead to saving one life.”
Some White House meetings have focused on Lebanese Americans, who fear how the war could spiral out of control. One conversation took place last month in the private basement dining room of a Lebanese restaurant in Detroit. The other was hosted by a Lebanese American businessman in Houston over the weekend.
Ed Gabriel, who helped organize the conversations as president of the American Task Force on Lebanon, said participants appreciated the opportunity to learn about US efforts in the Middle East. But there is frustration over the situation in Gaza.
“At what point does the president say, ‘Enough is enough, it has to be now?’” Gabriel said. “I know what they’re trying to get done. But after 30,000 deaths, you can’t expect people to understand. And that’s the challenge the president has.”
 

 


Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
Updated 28 May 2024
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Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
  • Labour, if elected, would recognize Palestinian statehood, says Angela Rayner

LONDON: Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the UK’s Labour Party, has promised that her party will do everything in its power to ease the suffering in Gaza as it bids to regain Muslim voters’ support, a leaked video surfacing on social media has revealed.

The footage was first reported by the political blog Guido Fawkes, which claimed to have obtained the leaked tape from a meeting in Ashton-under-Lyne, Rayner’s constituency.

The MP is seen appealing to voters upset with the party’s stance on Israel’s assault on Gaza, The Telegraph reported.

Rayner — claiming she worked “day and night” to get three British doctors out of Rafah and is now attempting to secure aid for the enclave — said: “I promise you, the Labour Party, including myself, is doing everything we can, because nobody wants to see what’s happening.”

She acknowledged the party’s current inability to halt the fighting, admitting that Labour’s influence would be “limited,” even if it came to power after July’s general election.

Rayner added: “Only last week the Labour Party were supporting the ICC (International Criminal Court). The Conservatives didn’t support the ICC, so with this general election on that issue, we can’t affect anything when we’re not in government.

“And I’ll be honest with you, if Labour gets into government, we are limited. I will be honest. I’m not going to promise you … because (Joe) Biden, who’s the US (president), who has way more influence, has only got limited influence in that.

“And Qatar, Saudi Arabia, all of these people, we are all working to stop what’s happening at the moment; we want to see that. So I promise you, that’s what we want to see.”

Rayner also promised that, if Labour was elected, the party would recognize Palestinian statehood.

She added: “If Labour gets into power, we will recognize Palestine. I will push not only to recognize … there is nothing to recognize at the moment, sadly. It’s decimated.

“We have to rebuild Palestine; we have to rebuild Gaza. That takes more than just recognizing it.”

Gaza has been a divisive issue for Labour since Oct. 7, with reports revealing that Muslim voters have abandoned the party as a result of what they perceive as its politicians enabling the war.

The Telegraph found that Labour’s support had dropped in local elections in areas with large Muslim populations, including Oldham in Greater Manchester, where the party lost control of the council in a surprise defeat.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has expressed his determination to re-establish trust among those who have abandoned his party due to his handling of the Gaza war.

However, when probed on particular commitments, he remained vague.

Rayner said in the video: “I know that people are angry about what’s happening in the Middle East.

“If my resignation as an MP now would bring a ceasefire, I would do it. I would do it if I could effect change.”

However, she said such an eventuality was not “in my gift” due to the “failure of the international community.”

In response to the footage, Nigel Farage, Reform UK’s honorary president, accused Rayner of “begging” for the Muslim vote, The Telegraph reported.


12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
Updated 28 May 2024
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12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
  • Several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides, and all schools were shut
  • India’s weather office warned of extremely heavy rains in northeastern states on Tuesday

Guwahati: Torrential rains in the wake of a powerful cyclone caused the collapse of a quarry in India’s Mizoram state killing 12 people, government officials said Tuesday.

“So far 12 bodies have been found, we are looking for more,” deputy commissioner of Aizawl district Nazuk Kumar told AFP.

Rescue efforts in the quarry were being hampered by “heavy rains,” police director general Anil Shukla said, NDTV news network reported.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma offered compensation to families of the victims of the “landslide due to Cyclone Remal.”

“I pray for the success of rescue and relief operations and wish a speedy recovery of the injured,” India’s President Droupadi Murmu said on social media.

In Mizoram, several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides. All schools were shut and government employees asked to work from home.

India’s weather office has issued warnings of extremely heavy rainfall across Mizoram and other northeastern states on Tuesday.

In India’s neighboring Assam state, one person was killed and heavy rains had cut the power supply, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a statement.

The cyclone made landfall in low-lying Bangladesh and neighboring India on Sunday evening with fierce gales and crashing waves.

Overall, at least 38 people died in the cyclone or storms in its wake.

In India, eight people died in West Bengal state, officials said Tuesday, updating an earlier toll of six, taking the total killed in the country to at least 21.

In neighboring Bangladesh, which bore the brunt of the cyclone that made landfall on Sunday, at least 17 people died, according to the disaster management office and police.


Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
Updated 28 May 2024
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Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
  • Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily
  • “We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do”

WARSAW: Poland’s foreign minister says the NATO nation should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine and should keep Russian President Vladimir Putin in suspense over whether such a decision would ever be made.
Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
“We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do,” Sikorski said when asked whether he would send Polish troops to Ukraine.
Sikorski said he has gone to Ukraine with his family to deliver humanitarian aid.
But a spokesperson for Poland’s Defense Ministry, Janusz Sejmej, told Polish media on Tuesday he had “no knowledge of that” when asked about a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine suggesting Poland might send troops to Ukraine.
The idea of sending foreign soldiers to Ukraine, which is battling Russian military aggression, was floated earlier this year in France, but no country, including Poland, has publicly embraced it.
Poland supports neighboring Ukraine politically and by providing military equipment and humanitarian aid.


Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy

Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy
Updated 28 May 2024
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Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy

Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy
  • The infant girl, her mother and 4-year-old sister were in an unseaworthy boat laden with migrants that had set off from Sfax in Tunisia
  • SOS Humanity workers aboard its “Humanity 1” vessel found many of the migrants exhausted

LAMPEDUSA, Italy: The body of a five-month-old baby was found on Tuesday when some 85 migrants heading for Italy from Tunisia were rescued from distress at sea, according to a Reuters witness.
The infant girl, her mother and 4-year-old sister were in an unseaworthy boat laden with migrants that had set off from Sfax in Tunisia two days earlier bound for Italy, according to charity group SOS Humanity.
SOS Humanity workers aboard its “Humanity 1” vessel found many of the migrants exhausted and suffering from seasickness and fuel burns as they were rescued before dawn on Tuesday, the group said in a statement.
Some 185 migrants rescued in separate operations this week, including the stricken boat overnight, were being taken aboard “Humanity 1” to the port of Livorno in northwest Italy. Another 120 migrants were transferred by coast guard boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa in the southern Mediterranean.
Tunisia is grappling with a migrant crisis and has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict further south in Africa as well as the Middle East in hopes of a better life in Europe.
Italy has sought to curb migrant arrivals from Africa, making it harder charity ships to operate in the Mediterranean, limiting the number of rescues they can carry out and often forcing them to make huge detours to bring migrants ashore.


Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election

Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election
Updated 28 May 2024
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Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election

Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election
  • Zelensky has not faced an election despite the expiry of his term

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Ukraine should hold a presidential election following the expiry of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s five-year term.
Zelensky has not faced an election despite the expiry of his term, something he and Kyiv’s allies deem the right decision in wartime. Putin said the only legitimate authority in Ukraine now was parliament, and that its head should be given power.