‘Shame on you’: White House correspondents’ dinner overshadowed by protests against Israel’s war in Gaza

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The war in Gaza sparked major protests outside a glitzy roast with US President Joe Biden, journalists, politicians and celebrities on April 27, but went virtually unmentioned by participants inside, with Mr Biden instead attending the annual correspondents’ dinner of the White House used to make its money. both jokes and grim warnings about Republican rival Donald Trump’s struggle to regain the American presidency.

An evening normally devoted to presidents, journalists and comedians making outrageous comments about political scandals and each other seemed to illustrate this year how difficult it is to put aside the upcoming presidential election and the problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Biden takes aim at Trump

Mr. Biden opened his roast with a direct but joking focus on Mr. Trump, calling him “sleepy Don,” referring to a nickname Trump had previously given the president.

U.S. President Joe Biden talks with Colin Jost, host of this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 27, 2024 in Washington. | Photo credit: AP

Despite being similar in age, Biden said, the two presidential candidates have little else in common. “My vice president actually supports me,” Mr. Biden said. Former Trump Vice President Mike Pence has refused to endorse Trump’s re-election bid.

But the president quickly pivoted to a stark speech about what he believes is at stake this election, saying a new Trump administration would be even more damaging to America than his first term.

“We have to take this seriously — eight years ago we could have written it off as ‘Trump talk,’ but not after January 6,” he told the audience, referring to Trump’s supporters who stormed the election. Capitol after Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump, as president, did not attend Saturday’s dinner and has never attended the annual banquet.

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In 2011, he sat in the audience and glared as then-President Barack Obama highlighted Mr. Trump’s reality TV celebrity status. Obama’s sarcasm was so poignant at the time that many political observers linked it to Trump’s subsequent decision to run for president in 2016.

Biden’s speech, which lasted about 10 minutes, made no mention of the ongoing war or growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Host Colin Jost, left, and President Joe Biden applaud as an image of Austin Tise, an American journalist being held in Syria, appears on screen during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

Host Colin Jost, left, and President Joe Biden applaud as an image of Austin Tise, an American journalist being held in Syria, appears on screen during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. | Photo credit: AP

One of the few mentions came from Kelly O’Donnell, president of the Correspondents Association, who briefly mentioned about 100 journalists killed in Israel’s six-month war against Hamas in Gaza.

In an evening largely devoted to journalism, Ms O’Donnell quoted journalists detained around the world, including American Evan Gershkovich in Russia and Austin Tice, who is believed to be being held in Syria. Families of both men were in attendance, as at previous dinners.

The event attracted almost 3,000 people. Celebrities included Academy Award winner Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Hamm and Chris Pine.

Both the president and comedian Colin Jost, who spoke after Biden, joked about the ages of both candidates for president. ‘I’m not saying that both candidates are old. But you know Jimmy Carter thinks, ‘Maybe I can win this,’ Mr. Jost said. ‘He’s only 99.â€

Protesters condemn Biden, Western news media

To get into Saturday’s dinner, some guests had to rush through hundreds of protesters outraged by the mounting humanitarian disaster for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They condemned Mr. Biden for his support of Israel’s military campaign and the Western news media for reporting what they said and misrepresenting the conflict.

Protesters walk through the streets during a pro-Palestinian protest against the war between Israel and Hamas outside the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, on April 27, 2024, in Washington.

Protesters walk through the streets during a pro-Palestinian protest against the war between Israel and Hamas outside the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, on April 27, 2024, in Washington. | Photo credit: AP

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“Shame on you!” shouted demonstrators dressed in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh cloth, chasing men in tuxedos and suits and women in long dresses carrying handbags as guests rushed inside for dinner. “Western media, we see you, and all the horrors you hide,” the crowds chanted at one point.

Other protesters lay motionless on the sidewalk, next to models of flak jackets with “press” insignia.

The demonstrators shouted: ‘Free, free Palestine.’ They cheered when at one point someone at the Washington Hilton — where the dinner has been held for decades — unfurled a Palestinian flag from a top-floor hotel window.

Also read: Why are students protesting on American campuses? | Explained

Criticism of the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has spread across American college campuses, with students setting up encampments and resisting police raids in an effort to force their universities to divest from Israel. Counter-protests support Israel’s offensive and complain of anti-Semitism.

Biden’s motorcade on Saturday took an alternate route from the White House to the Washington Hilton than in previous years, largely avoiding the crowds of protesters.

Law enforcement officials, including the Secret Service, implemented additional street closures and other measures to ensure what Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said would be the “highest level of safety and security for those in attendance.”

Protest organizers said they wanted to draw attention to the large number of Palestinian and other Arab journalists killed by the Israeli army since the war began in October.

Boycott calls

More than twenty journalists in Gaza wrote a letter last week calling on their colleagues in Washington to boycott the dinner altogether.

See also  Israel bombards Gaza after US Congress approves military aid

“The toll exacted on us for merely fulfilling our journalistic duties is staggering,” the letter said. “We are subjected to detentions, interrogations and torture by the Israeli army, all for the ‘crime’ of journalistic integrity. .â€

One organizer complained that the White House Correspondents’ Association — which represents the hundreds of journalists who cover the president — has been largely silent about the killings of Palestinian journalists since the first weeks of the war. WHCA did not respond to a request for comment.

Nearly 100 journalists covering the war in Gaza have been killed, according to a preliminary investigation released on April 26 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Israel has defended its actions, saying it targeted militants.

“Since the beginning of the war between Israel and Gaza, journalists have paid the ultimate price – their lives – to defend our right to the truth. Every time a journalist dies or is injured, we lose a fragment of that truth,” CPJ program director Carlos Martínez de la Serna said in a statement.

Sandra Tamari, executive director of the Adalah Justice Project, a US-based Palestinian advocacy group that helped organize the letter from journalists in Gaza, said: ‘It is a shame for the media to have dinner and laugh with President Biden while enabling Israeli devastation and famine of Palestinians in Gaza.”

In addition, the Adalah Justice Project launched an email campaign targeting twelve media executives at several news outlets – including The Associated Press – who were expected to attend the dinner and who had previously signed a letter calling for the protection of journalists in Gaza.

“How can you still go when your colleagues in Gaza asked you not to?” one protester asked guests as they walked in. “You are complicit.”

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