Like his predecessor, George W. Bush, President Barack Obama holds an Iftar dinner each year in the White House, paying tribute to Muslim Americans during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
This year, the gathering made headlines after the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), considered to be the largest Arab American group, urged all Arab and Muslims in the United States to boycott the event, citing the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel’s bombing of the Hamas targets in Gaza as its reason.
What was particularly noteworthy was the way the president referred to the ongoing conflict in his remarks at the dinner.
After acknowledging that “the pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart-wrenching,” and that “there are strong views, as well as differences, about how we should move forward,” Obama made a carefully worded statement about the Israeli military operations.
“I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”
The president stated nothing but the most basic facts, but recognizing who his audience was, his choice of words was welcome and refreshing.
This wasn’t exactly an AIPAC gathering: Among the list of expected attendees released by the White House were the Chief of the PLO delegation to Washington, and a long list of ambassadors from various Arab States.
While the President did add that “the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live,” that was hardly comforting to many of the assembled, many of whom have made no secret of their extreme anti-Israel views.
Over the past six years, President Obama and some members of his administration have made statements and policy decisions that supporters of Israel have found disconcerting and troubling, and have rightfully expressed their dismay.
In contrast, the president’s strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself, in a rather unlikely venue, is right on target, and greatly appreciated.