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UN head, a Catholic, accused of artifice for fasting in Gazan solidarity

"Fasting with you on Ramadan, I am deeply troubled to know so many people in Gaza will not be able to have a proper Iftar," António Guterres said.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (second from right) shares Iftar with Sudanese refugees in Egypt during his annual solidarity visit to a country that observes Ramadan. Credit: Mark Garten/U. N. Photo.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (second from right) shares Iftar with Sudanese refugees in Egypt during his annual solidarity visit to a country that observes Ramadan. Credit: Mark Garten/U. N. Photo.

António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general who is Catholic, fasted during the Muslim month of Ramadan during a recent visit to Egypt in solidarity with Gazans.

“Ramadan is a time for spreading the values of compassion, community and peace,” Guterres said during a press conference at the Rafah border crossing on Saturday. “It is monstrous that after so much suffering over so many months, Palestinians in Gaza are marking Ramadan with Israeli bombs still falling, bullets still flying, artillery still pounding and humanitarian assistance still facing obstacle upon obstacle.”

“Fasting with you on Ramadan, I am deeply troubled to know so many people in Gaza will not be able to have a proper Iftar,” the U.N. head said. “I want Palestinians in Gaza to know: You are not alone.”

The Istanbul-based Türkiye newspaper noted that Guterres is “known for his deep respect for Muslim traditions.”

Guterres has been described as a “committed Catholic.” In December 2021, he received the Catholic Church’s Lamp of Peace award. “As a person of faith with a deep appreciation and respect for the mission of St. Francis, this award and ceremony are especially meaningful,” he said at the time.

On May 24, 2022, he delivered the commencement address at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. “This is a Catholic university, and as a Catholic, I have always been guided by the parable of the talents,” he said in the address.

Guterres wrote on Facebook on Monday, “Every year, I undertake a solidarity mission during the holy month of Ramadan to shine a light on Muslim communities in distress.”

“This year, I have come to the Rafah crossing to spotlight the hardship and pain of Palestinians in Gaza—and the obstacles to easing their plight,” he said.

Critics dismissed his participation in the Muslim right as disingenuous.

“The worst kind of Western liberal virtue signaler. Swoops in to conflict zone. ‘Fasts’ to ‘show his solidarity.’ Then clears off back to his luxury life in New York having done nothing to resolve a crisis he won’t even acknowledge the origins of,” wrote Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank. “Truly pathetic.”

“Out of respect for the beliefs of the Jewish people, who you aren’t visiting, why don’t you put on a Purim costume,” wrote the Brighton, U.K.-based advocacy group Sussex Friends of Israel. “Maybe you can come as Haman? (If the cap fits!)”

Becca Wertman-Traub, director of research at the Canada-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, wrote that “134 Israelis—including a baby—are not able to celebrate Purim because Hamas continues to hold them hostage. Have Hamas release the hostages, lay down its arms and surrender. Let Israelis and Palestinians have a chance at peace.”

“You of course observed the Fast of Esther pre-Purim, too, in solidarity with the Israeli hostages and in respect of Jewish beliefs too?” another user posted.

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