Gaza war casts shadow over White House correspondents' dinner

US President Joe Biden at the 2023 edition of the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington (SAUL LOEB)
US President Joe Biden at the 2023 edition of the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington (SAUL LOEB)
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The White House Correspondents' Association dinner, which annually brings reporters, politicians and a glitzy array of celebrities together in a mostly lighthearted affair, will take place Saturday under very different circumstances, including a call for a boycott by Palestinian journalists.

With President Joe Biden heading a long list of VIP guests, more than two dozen Palestinian journalists this week issued an open letter urging their American colleagues to boycott the dinner.

"You have a unique responsibility to speak truth to power and uphold journalistic integrity," said the letter. "It is unacceptable to stay silent out of fear or professional concern while journalists in Gaza continue to be detained, tortured, and killed for doing our jobs."

According to the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), at least 97 journalists -- including 92 Palestinians -- have been killed since war erupted on October 7 with Hamas's invasion of southern Israel. At least 16 others have been wounded.

In addition to the boycott call, an anti-war coalition is planning a demonstration not far from the Washington Hilton hotel where the dinner is to take place.

The anti-war group Code Pink, part of the coalition, said it planned to "shut down" the dinner to protest "the complicity of the Biden administration in the targeting and killing of Palestinian journalists by the Israeli military."

It said its action would be "nonviolent" but offered no details.

For months, Biden's every move has been shadowed by protesters angry over US support for the Israeli military offensive in Gaza. He has been met by shouts of "Genocide Joe" and noisy calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The gala dinner and a surrounding series of society events are taking place as the Gaza protest movement has been spreading to colleges across the country, and as police crackdowns on some campuses have led to hundreds of arrests.

At the dinner, in keeping with longstanding tradition -- interrupted during the Donald Trump years -- Biden will sit on the dais keeping a steady smile on his face as a guest comedian rips into him.

This year it will be Colin Jost, a longtime writer and actor with NBC's "Saturday Night Live," who seeks to entertain the crowd of VIPs in their tuxedos and flowing evening gowns. (Jost's wife, actress Scarlett Johansson, is expected to be there.)

The 81-year-old US president, also in keeping with tradition, will then deliver a speech, sure to include some self-mockery, some ribbing of the press and, no doubt, some sharp-elbowed jabs at Trump, his presumptive opponent in November's presidential election.

The annual dinner has been organized since 1920 by the influential White House Correspondents' Association, which honors top reporters and awards journalism scholarships.

Last year, 2,600 people attended.

The association declined an AFP request to comment on the boycott call and the planned demonstration.