Palestinian American physician walks out of Biden assembly in protest


A Palestinian American physician walked out of a gathering with President Joe Biden earlier than it was over Tuesday night, underscoring the excessive tensions, anger and concern from Arab, Palestinian and Muslim American communities amid the Israel-Hamas struggle.

Dr. Thaer Ahmad, an emergency doctor from Chicago who traveled to Gaza earlier this 12 months, instructed CNN he abruptly left the assembly that included Vice President Kamala Harris, nationwide safety adviser Jake Sullivan, different administration officers and a small group of Muslim neighborhood leaders.

Whereas the president has usually confronted protests and interruptions at public occasions within the final a number of months, Ahmad’s choice to go away the assembly is probably probably the most intimate second of protest the president has confronted up to now since Israel’s marketing campaign in Gaza started following Hamas’ October 7 assault. It’s a stark reminder to the president of the political downside he faces with key components of his coalition — together with Arab and Muslim Individuals and progressive voters — as his administration continues to face by and assist Israel’s struggle within the Palestinian enclave.

CNN beforehand reported that what was alleged to be an iftar dinner to interrupt the Ramadan quick was modified to a gathering as a result of contributors didn’t really feel comfy having a celebratory meal whereas tons of of hundreds in Gaza are on the point of famine. It’s one other instance of the administration’s fraying relationship with the Muslim American neighborhood — different makes an attempt at holding conferences in key states have been hampered by declined invites, and relationships with essential neighborhood teams have frayed for the reason that struggle started.

Following the assembly, a White Home official mentioned in a press release that “President Biden and Vice President Harris know it is a deeply painful second for a lot of within the Muslim and Arab communities.”

Biden, the official mentioned, “made clear that he mourns the lack of each harmless life on this battle” and expressed dedication “to proceed working to safe an instantaneous ceasefire as a part of a deal to free the hostages and considerably enhance humanitarian help into Gaza.”

Ahmad traveled to Gaza as a part of a delegation of docs from the NGO MedGlobal, working within the metropolis of Khan Younis as preventing raged across the Nasser Hospital. He mentioned his expertise there, citing large numbers of displaced, injured and dying folks, and he spoke out towards an anticipated Israeli offensive in Rafah.

“I mentioned it was disappointing I’m the one Palestinian right here, and out of respect for my neighborhood, I’m going to go away,” Ahmad mentioned he instructed the president.

Earlier than he left, he handed Biden a letter from an eight-year-old orphaned lady, Hadeel, who resides in Rafah.

“I encourage you, President Biden, cease them from coming into Rafah,” a translation of the letter shared with CNN says. US officers have warned Israel to not increase its army operations into Rafah with no complete plan to guard civilian lives.

Biden instructed him he understood that he wanted to go away, Ahmad mentioned.

Ahmad mentioned he felt it was essential to attend the assembly, although he reiterated he didn’t really feel it was acceptable to speak about demise and famine over a dinner. A number of invited visitors declined the invitation.

“I wished an opportunity to face up and stroll away from the folks making selections the way in which they’re strolling from my folks,” Ahmad mentioned.

Ahmad is planning to return to Gaza within the coming weeks.

“There’s this large quantity of survivors’ guilt that every one Palestinians are feeling proper now,” he mentioned. “We live this and respiratory this – our whole lives have been modified. It’s onerous to be right here and reside my life usually serious about people who find themselves over there struggling – particularly having two daughters.”

Ahmad mentioned he additionally wished to counter the assertion that Hamas is utilizing hospitals, shelters and colleges as bases and command facilities.

“We had not seen something of that nature,” he mentioned.

Dr. Nahreen Ahmed, an ICU doctor in Philadelphia who additionally attended the assembly, instructed CNN that her colleague Ahmad made a “heartfelt plea” earlier than he walked out of the assembly.

“This was not him as a physician, this was him as a Palestinian American, having witnessed the atrocities that he noticed firsthand. Thaer and I had been each in Gaza collectively. We watched far too many individuals killed, coming in lifeless on arrival within the emergency room,” mentioned Ahmed, who’s the medical director on the NGO MedGlobal.

“That’s a voice that doesn’t get to vent their frustrations and speak about how a lot it impacts them, as a result of they’re not invited to the desk. And so it was a very essential second to have the ability to train that proper,” she added.

Following Ahmad’s departure, Ahmed mentioned the 5 different attendees from the Muslim American neighborhood took turns talking on completely different matters on the assembly, which lasted greater than an hour and left some attendees annoyed.

“I felt like possibly this was not essentially a gathering the place something actionable was meant to occur, or be promised, however that it was that it actually felt prefer it was form a PR transfer, to have the ability to say we met with the Muslim neighborhood,” Ahmed mentioned.

A physician described what’s occurring on the bottom with help distribution and overwhelmed hospitals.

One other attendee mentioned the necessity for maritime assist. An imam known as on Biden to reset his ethical compass, based on Ahmed. And Ahmed detailed the “dire state of affairs with malnutrition and the violation of worldwide humanitarian legislation and the consequences of that on sufferers, on hospital methods.”

Following the listening session, Ahmed mentioned that Biden initially responded with a give attention to the terrors of October 7.

“He sort of went again to that and mentioned, ‘You understand, I hear what all people’s saying, however like, take into consideration the younger folks that had been killed on October 7.’ And it sort of dismissed the over 30,000 folks lifeless in Palestine,” she mentioned.

Biden went on to debate the complexity of eradicating Hamas and ongoing talks with leaders within the area working towards a ceasefire, Ahmed mentioned.

Ahmed instructed CNN she felt it was essential to attend and humanize the struggling she has witnessed firsthand in Gaza, the place she plans to return within the coming weeks.

Ahmed mentioned that turned clear in a second the place Harris requested her what the folks in Gaza are consuming.

“I mentioned, ‘Effectively, principally, they’re not consuming something. However, for those who’re asking concerning the animals feed, like, sure, persons are consuming animal feed.’ And he or she regarded like she was listening to that for the primary time as a confirmed factor,” Ahmed mentioned.

“That to me confirmed these conversations have to occur, and they should proceed occurring,” she mentioned.

The White Home had shifted plans for Biden to host an iftar dinner Tuesday evening to interrupt the Ramadan quick with Muslim neighborhood leaders, as a substitute deciding to carry a gathering with the group because the administration faces anger and concern from Arab, Palestinian and Muslim American communities amid the Israel-Hamas struggle.

A White Home official mentioned earlier Tuesday that Biden would as a substitute host a small dinner with senior Muslim administration officers, however outdoors attendees had been anticipated solely to go to the assembly after vital pushback from anticipated attendees, sources instructed CNN.

“There was a big quantity of pushback from attendees that it could be inappropriate to lift the humanitarian disaster in Gaza over dinner,” an individual conversant in the assembly instructed CNN. “There’s a famine in Gaza, 23 youngsters have died from hunger in Northern Gaza. I don’t assume anyone could be comfy sharing these tales and pictures over dinner.”

One other supply conversant in the plans mentioned that there was little curiosity from contributors in eager to eat and have fun and that it turned clear it could be extra becoming to carry a coverage dialogue.

CNN had beforehand reported that a number of individuals who had been invited to attend have declined, sources mentioned, citing frustration with the administration’s assist of Israel amid the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

And a 3rd supply instructed CNN, “Principally the sentiment we heard over and over was that anyone going to the iftar whereas Palestinians are being killed and starved needs to be ashamed of themselves.”

The second is considerably scaled again from earlier Ramadan observations in the course of the Biden administration. Final 12 months, the White Home didn’t maintain an iftar dinner – the breaking of the every day quick after sunset – however hosted practically 350 folks for a reception celebrating Eid al-Fitr, a pageant marking the top of Ramadan.

“Persevering with his custom of honoring the Muslim neighborhood throughout Ramadan, President Biden will host a gathering with Muslim neighborhood leaders to debate problems with significance to the neighborhood,” a White Home official mentioned.

The iftar following the assembly was described by the White Home official as “a small breaking of the quick, prayer, and iftar with quite a lot of senior Muslim administration officers.”

This 12 months, Ramadan comes as greater than 32,000 folks have been killed since Israel launched a ferocious marketing campaign in Gaza towards Hamas within the wake of the fear group’s brutal assaults on October 7, based on the Gaza well being ministry. Biden has known as for an instant ceasefire however has stopped wanting saying it needs to be everlasting or halting arms provisions to Israel.

White Home officers have held a number of conferences with distinguished Arab American and Muslim leaders in numerous cities. Final month, senior White Home officers met with Arab, Muslim and Palestinian American neighborhood leaders in Chicago. Tom Perez, the White Home director of intergovernmental affairs, and Steve Benjamin, director of public engagement, participated within the assembly, amongst others. However a few of the invited contributors declined to attend as a result of humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

Anger and concern concerning the administration’s dealing with of the battle can also be presenting political issues for Biden, together with in battleground states resembling Michigan, residence to greater than 200,000 Muslim American voters. Within the state’s Democratic main in February, greater than 100,000 Democratic main voters selected “uncommitted” to ship a message to the president. Biden has additionally been repeatedly interrupted by activists on the marketing campaign path.

This story has been up to date with further developments.

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