(RNS) — A White House event meant to mark a Muslim holiday attracted condemnation and boycotts from some Democrats and American Muslim groups in the context of growing violence in the Middle East.
The White House hosted a virtual celebration on Sunday (May 16) to mark Eid al-Fitr, an important holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The world’s Muslims observed the holiday on Thursday.
“We also believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security,” President Joe Biden said during the video address released Sunday, in which he and first lady Jill Biden sent warm wishes to the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims. The president pledged to work toward a “sustained calm” in the embattled Holy Land region and noted that next year’s White House event would be held in person.
But an open letter from the Muslim Delegates and Allies Coalition, signed by some 60 members of the Democratic Party, pushed back against the timing and fanfare of the event.
“In lieu of flowers or condolences for martyred Palestinian children, or even a White House Eid celebration, we request the United States recognize dignity rights worldwide. A first step in recognizing our humanity would be to not allow a policy of mass slaughter in the sacred Islamic month of Ramadan,” read the open letter, whose signees included former Democratic National Convention delegates, precinct captains for the party and other party officials, including representatives from over a dozen states.
A number of other Muslim leaders and organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, boycotted the event. A high-profile protest event, “Eid with Palestine: A Protest of the White House Eid Event,” attracted a number of prominent speakers, including pollster James Zogby and political activist Angela Davis.
“The situation in the Holy Land is weighing heavily on Muslims everywhere, including our Muslim communities here in the United States,” the president said in a statement released Friday in an effort to head off the controversy. “Palestinians — including in Gaza — and Israelis equally deserve to live in dignity, safety and security.” Biden reiterated that theme in his remarks Sunday.
Israel and Palestine have seen multiple days of violent clashes in recent weeks. The clashes were sparked after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in early May allowing for the eviction of several Arab families from Eastern Jerusalem and subsequent violence within the city seen as a holy site for Muslims, Jews and Christians. Palestinians view Eastern Jerusalem as a potential capital in a future independent Palestinian state.