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.”
 

 


Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
Updated 10 min 5 sec ago
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Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
  • Pichit Chuenban says his resignation would allow the country ‘to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity’

BANGKOK: A Thai minister at the center of a pending legal complaint seeking the dismissal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin resigned on Tuesday, in an effort to insulate the premier from possible repercussions.
A group of 40 senators lodged a complaint to the Constitutional Court last week against Pichit Chuenban, 65, saying his appointment last month as minister to the prime minister’s office breached the constitution, as he has a criminal record.
The court was due on Thursday to decide whether or not to accept the case, which could lead to Srettha’s suspension.
“Even though I have been vetted and honestly believe that I am qualified by law, this matter is linked to the prime minister,” Pichit said in his resignation letter, shared with media by Srettha’s office.
He said his resignation would allow the country “to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity.”
It was not immediately clear whether the resignation would have any impact on the complaint submitted to the court.
Pichit was jailed for six months in 2008 for contempt of court after an alleged attempt to bribe court officials with 2 million baht ($55,000) hidden in a paper grocery bag.
His law license was suspended for five years by the Lawyers Council of Thailand after the incident. The government has said it carefully vetted Pichit’s qualifications and was confident it could defend his appointment before the court.
Pichit becomes the third minister to quit Srettha’s cabinet, after his foreign minister and deputy finance minister resigned following a cabinet reshuffle last month.
The senators, whose term has ended, are currently lawmakers in a caretaker capacity pending the selection of a new chamber. They have accused Pichit of lacking integrity and ethical standards to hold a ministerial post.
Government critics say Pichit was appointed due to his close relationship with a client, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned to Thailand last year after 15 years in exile. Thaksin, an ally of Srettha, still wields considerable political influence, despite officially being retired.
The government has insisted Pichit was appointed due to his capabilities.


Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey
Updated 14 min 4 sec ago
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Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey
  • President gets 7%, predecessor 2% support because of Gaza ‘genocide’
  • Much higher backing for third-party candidates Jill Stein, Cornell West

CHICAGO: A national survey of Arab Americans released on Monday shows that most respondents overwhelmingly reject the reelection of both President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump.

Conducted by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Truth Project on May 17 and 18, the survey shows support for Biden at 7 percent and Trump at 2 percent.

Arab and Muslim voters played a significant role in helping Biden defeat Trump in several key swing states in the November 2020 presidential election.

After taking office in January 2021, Biden responded by unveiling “A Plan for Partnership” with the Arab-American community that was to help strengthen ties with his administration.

But Biden’s unequivocal backing of Israel, including helping to approve more than $40 billion in military aid for the country’s alleged genocide in Gaza — which has taken more than 35,000 Palestinian lives — has all but erased that support and his edge over Trump in key swing states, according to the survey organizers.

“Since the start of the genocide many have speculated about who Arab Americans would vote for — Biden or Trump. The answer is neither, with third-party candidates getting substantial support,” ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said in a statement to Arab News.

Third-party candidates Dr. Jill Stein and Dr. Cornell West received much higher support among Arab Americans.

Stein, who is Jewish and with the Green Party, received 25 percent support while West, who is African American, received 20 percent.

Not mentioned in the survey was leading third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. His views have varied from calling for peace and recognition of Palestine to rejecting accusations that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute genocide. Kennedy has declined repeated requests from Arab News for interviews.

Five national polls released in March and April from Quinnipiac University, Fox News, Marquette Law School, NBC News and Marist College showed Kennedy with 13 percent support for his independent presidential bid. Stein and West received only 3 percent each in the national polls.

As the presidential election approaches, “it is evident that Arab-American and allied voters are supporting candidates that are listening to our concerns and demands,” ADC said.

In its survey, 19 percent of Arab Americans said they were “undecided” and 3 percent said they would not vote in November.

ADC said support for Stein and West is based on the two running on an anti-genocide platform.

Stein has been a “strong and vocal supporter of Palestine” throughout her career, ADC noted, adding that West has also adopted this stance.

Arab, Muslim and other voters have shown significant opposition to Biden’s reelection in more than 30 state primaries, including five key swing states where he won by slim margins over Trump.

The primary election campaigns have been led by the #AbandonBiden movement, which told Arab News that it is considering hosting its own “Presidential Convention” in the autumn to galvanize Arab, Muslim and “progressive” voters to consider alternatives to Biden.

The ADC / Truth Project survey is based on outreach to 36,139 Arab Americans and “allied voters” who were asked one question: “Who are you voting for in November?”

Over the two days, 2,196 (6 percent) responded. ADC said this was “a high level of enthusiasm” in the presidential election race.

The Truth Project is a social welfare body committed to uniting a diverse coalition of Americans and organizations who support justice and equality in Palestine.

ADC has a large national grassroots membership base, and was founded in the 1980s to fight for civil and Arab-American rights.


North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon
Updated 22 min 37 sec ago
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North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon
  • Former South Korean president Moon Jae-in was instrumental in brokering two high-profile summit meetings between Kim Jong Un and then-US president Donald Trump
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to give up his nuclear arsenal if America guaranteed his regime would survive, former South Korean president Moon Jae-in said in a recently released memoir.
Moon, who led South Korea for five years from 2017, was instrumental in brokering two high-profile summit meetings between Kim and then-United States president Donald Trump, aimed at securing Pyongyang’s denuclearization in return for sanctions relief.
But after the second summit collapsed in 2019, diplomatic outreach was abandoned, with relations between the two Koreas now at one of their worst points in years, as Kim doubles down on weapons production and draws closer to ally Moscow.
In the memoir released Friday, titled “From the Periphery to the Center,” former president Moon outlined in great detail his interactions with the North Korean leader.
“Kim said he would forsake nuclear weapons if there was a guarantee of regime survival,” Moon said in the book, adding that he felt the young North Korean leader was “very honest.”
According to Moon, Kim’s reasoning was: “I have a daughter and I do not wish her generation to live with nuclear weapons... Why would we continue to live in difficulty, under sanctions, with nuclear weapons if our security can be guaranteed?“
But the North Korean leader was “well aware of mistrust from the international community and the (belief from the) US that the North had been lying” about its commitments to denuclearization, Moon said.
Kim specifically asked him how the North could manage to “make Washington believe in our sincerity” to disarm.
In five years since the Hanoi summit, Pyongyang has declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear weapons power, accelerated weapons development, branded Seoul its “principal enemy” and threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial infringement.
It has also moved closer to Moscow, purportedly supplying it with arms in exchange for space technologies, something which would violate rafts of United Nations sanctions on both countries.
Despite how things have played out, Moon said in his memoir that he still believed Kim was sincere in his plans to denuclearize, but that it was strongly contingent on “corresponding measures” from the US.
Kim and Trump failed to strike a deal because Washington demanded complete denuclearization before it would consider providing sanctions relief, Moon wrote.
“In retrospect, I regret that (South Korea) did not mediate more effectively by listening to the North’s demands and relaying them to Washington if deemed reasonable,” he said.
“Though there are negative views about Trump, he was a very good fit for me as a counterpart in alliance diplomacy,” he said.
“While there are assessments that he is rude and harsh, I liked him for his honesty. A person who has a smiling face but acts differently and thus can’t be read is more difficult to deal with,” he added.
Trump was both apologetic and regretful that the Hanoi summit ended without a deal, Moon wrote.
Trump was “willing to accept (the North Koreans’ terms) but then-Security Adviser John Bolton fervently opposed it,” Moon wrote.
When Trump asked then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a second opinion, he agreed with Bolton, leaving Trump no option but to walk away, Moon wrote.
It is impossible to take Kim’s words at face value now, Hong Min a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said.
What was clear “is that Kim tried to change the status quo by expressing his intention to denuclearize,” he said.
The only way to know if Kim was serious, would have been to strike a deal in Hanoi and “gauge how far the North would go toward denuclearization,” he added.
Moon was succeeded by conservative Yoon Suk Yeol, who has taken a significantly more hawkish stance on North Korea.
Yoon has not commented on the memoir but his minister for unification Kim Yung-ho said on Monday that taking Kim’s words at face value could have lead to a security-related “miscalculation.”
“While ignoring North Korea’s (nuclear) capability, if we only focus on the North’s intentions, this could result in a miscalculation of the security situation,” he said, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case

Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case
Updated 3 sec ago
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Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case

Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case
  • International human rights groups argue the defendants’ right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded

KALAMATA, Greece: Greek prosecutors recommended dismissing charges against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants last year and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations, as their trial was opening on Tuesday.

Speaking at the opening of a trial against the nine in the southern Greek city of Kalamata, public prosecutor Ekaterini Tsironi said that Greek jurisdiction cannot be established as the overcrowded trawler sank outside Greek territorial waters.

The defendants, most in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on June 14 last year off the southern coast of Greece.

More than 500 people are believed to have gone down with the fishing trawler, which had been traveling from Libya to Italy. Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were recovered.

International human rights groups argue that their right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded into claims that the Greek coast guard may have botched the rescue attempt.

Defense lawyer Spyros Pantazis asked the court to declare itself incompetent to try the case, arguing that the sinking occurred outside Greek territorial waters. “The court should not be turned into an international punisher,” Pantazis told the panel of three judges.

Kontaratou questioned all nine defendants through an interpreter. The accused said their intention was to travel to Italy, not Greece, and several declared their innocence.

Kontaratou acknowledged that there “were no Greeks on board, it was not under a Greek flag and all the documents refer to the (vessel being) 47 nautical miles away.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the judge’s remarks indicated she would dismiss the case.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres last year described the shipwreck as “horrific.”

The sinking renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent, as the number of people traveling illegally across the Mediterranean continues to rise every year.

Lawyers from Greek human rights groups are representing the nine Egyptians, who deny the smuggling charges.

“There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence, given that the official investigation into the role of the coast guard has not yet been completed,” said Judith Sunderland, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

Authorities say the defendants were identified by other survivors and the indictments are based on their testimonies.

The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis — driven largely by arrivals at the sea borders.


Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space
Updated 55 min 18 sec ago
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Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

MOSCOW: Russia on Tuesday said the United States was seeking to place weapons in space, the latest accusation in an ongoing row, that came a day after Washington vetoed a Russian non-proliferation motion at the United Nations.
“They have once again demonstrated that their true priorities in the area of outer space are aimed not at keeping space free from weapons of any kind, but at placing weapons in space and turning it into an arena for military confrontation,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.