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President Biden Adds Battle Against Islamophobia to His Quest for Peace

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

When President Joe Biden was interrupted by a local protester who called for a “cease-fire” in the Israel-Hamas war, Biden did not disagree.

“I think we need a pause,” Biden said, as ushers escorted the protester out.

What’s the difference between a “cease-fire” and a “pause”?

Unlike a cease-fire, to which the Israelis refused to commit, Western leaders have instead been pushing for “humanitarian pauses,” a cessation of hostilities for short periods to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza region unimpeded and for civilians to seek refuge. Biden described it as time to get prisoners released.

At least Biden provided more of a direct answer to such questions than he or his aides previously offered. They’ve preferred instead to avoid telling Israelis how to carry out their military response to Hamas’ abhorrent Oct. 7 attack.

Yet the president also has faced intensifying pressure from human rights groups and activists like the woman who interrupted his speech. She was identified as Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg from Jewish Voice for Peace, a progressive anti-Zionist organization that has called for boycotts against Israel.

At the same time, Biden has faced intensifying pressure from human rights groups, other world leaders and even liberals in his own Democratic Party who argue that the crisis needs more remedies than Israeli bombardment.

Blowback from a wide array of people, including Arab and Muslim Americans, may help to explain Biden’s new initiative this past week — a “first-ever” national strategy to counter Islamophobia in this country.

The project is expected to take months to formalize, and officials did not specify a timeline.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre underscored the need for an anti-Islamophobia effort, citing the recent surge in hate-fueled attacks, most notably the barbaric killing of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian American Muslim, and the wounding of his mother in their home outside Chicago.

Some Muslim leaders want more. As Rami Nashashibi, founder of the Inner City Muslim Action Network in Chicago and a participant in that White House session, said, such an effort would be “dead on arrival” with the Muslim community until the Biden administration forcefully condemns members of the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who have openly called for the eradication of Palestinians from Gaza.

Some of the Muslims and Arab Americans in the group also want Biden to apologize, or at least publicly clarify, his recent comments that he had “no confidence” in the Palestinian death count from Israel’s retaliatory strikes, because the data comes from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

 

That’s probably a bridge too far, given Hamas’ founding principle of eliminating the Jewish state.

The intractability of the dispute has been vexing for ages. Two ancient peoples have fought and argued over the same big patch of disputed land, and there’s no clear end yet in sight.

Yet there also have been glimmers of hope and sometimes valiant leadership over the decades. Yes, you can be opposed to Israeli government policies without being antisemitic. To be a government critic does not mean being anti-Jewish, and many Israelis strongly opposed Netanyahu’s policies before the Hamas attack.

Similarly, we should avoid equating the views of Hamas with those of all Palestinians.

A promising July poll commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found that 62% of Gazans supported Hamas maintaining a cease-fire with Israel.

And half agreed with this proposition: “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.”

Would that Hamas had listened to the views of the people it purports to represent. Alas, we can only hope the anger, grief and misery on both sides don’t foreclose the possibility of achieving some level of peace in the foreseeable future. Keep that hope alive.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2023 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2023 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

 

 

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