Poet Rupi Kaur declines invite to White House Diwali celebration over U.S. response to Israel-Hamas war

Poet Rupi Kaur declines invite to White House Diwali celebration over U.S. response to Israel-Hamas war

Poet Rupi Kaur said she is declining an invitation to the White House’s Diwali celebration over the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s continuing bombardment of Gaza and what she called its justification of “genocide against Palestinians.”

“I’m surprised this administration finds it acceptable to celebrate Diwali, when their support of the current atrocities against Palestinians represent the exact opposite of what this holiday means to many of us,” Kaur wrote Monday on Instagram.

The holiday celebration, which is being hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday, is a celebration of “righteousness over falsehood and knowledge over ignorance” by people of the Hindu and Jain faiths and culturally throughout India and around the world, Kaur said. 

“I have always used this day to reflect on what it means to fight for freedom against oppression,” Kaur said.

“I refuse any invitation from an institution that supports the collective punishment of a trapped civilian population — 50% of whom are children,” the “Milk and Honey” author continued.

The current war between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched a brutal surprise attack on Israel. Since then, the Israeli military has executed an aggressive offensive on Gaza, bombarding the strip with airstrikes and sending troops and tanks into Gaza late last month.

Since the start of the war, at least 1,400 have been killed in Israel, and according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, more than 10,300 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than 4,200 children.

CBS News cannot independently verify the figures provided by the health ministry, but U.S. officials say the civilian toll is undoubtedly in the thousands.

“Today, the American government is not only funding the bombardment of Gaza, they continue to justify this genocide against Palestinians—regardless of how many refugee camps, health facilities, and places of worship are blown to bits,” Kaur wrote. 

The Biden administration hosted the White House’s largest Diwali celebration ever last year, but Kaur said she cannot “remain silent or agreeable just to get a seat at the table” without addressing what is happening in Gaza.

“As a Sikh woman, I will not allow my likeness to be used in whitewashing this administration’s actions,” the poet said. 

“The privilege we lose from speaking up is nothing compared to what Palestinians lose each day because this administration rejects a ceasefire,” Kaur added.

While President Biden has called for a three-day “humanitarian pause” in order to get hostages out, his administration has not asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a “humanitarian cease-fire” — which Kaur noted is being demanded by several countries, the United Nations and organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.

Other South Asian public figures commented on Kaur’s post in support of the statement, with some saying they would also skip the event.

Actor Richa Moorjani from “Never Have I Ever” said she would follow Kaur’s lead in missing the Diwali event: “I stand tall boycotting White House Diwali with you.”

Content creator @payalforstyle commented, saying she would decline her invitation despite looking forward to receiving one since last year’s celebration.

“I cannot in good faith attend. I cannot support this administration,” she said. “I cannot allow the darkness of their actions to be glazed over by beautiful glitzy outfits and photo opps…all to make them appear inclusive.”

South Asian diaspora-focused publication Brown Girl Magazine thanked Kaur for speaking out and said it too declined the White House invitation.

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