'Shame on you' chants greet guests at White House Correspondents' Party shadowed by war in Gaza

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON (AP) —

Biden focused his roast directly but humorously on Trump, calling him “Sleepy Don,” a reference to a nickname Trump had previously given the president.

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

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

“We have to take this seriously — eight years ago it could have been written as a 'Trump speech,' but not after Jan. 6,” Biden told the audience, referring to Trump's supporters who stormed the Capitol after Biden defeated Trump. 2020 election.

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

One of the few references to the roughly 100 journalists killed in Israel's six-month war against Hamas in Gaza came from Kelly O'Donnell, president of the Correspondents' Association. In an evening largely devoted to journalism, O'Donnell cited journalists detained around the world, including Americans Ivan Gershkovich in Russia and Austin Tice, who is believed to have been arrested in Syria. The families of both attended the same dinner as before.

To get into Saturday's dinner, some guests had to rush past hundreds of protesters angry about the mounting humanitarian disaster for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They denounced Biden for his support of Israel's military campaign and for the cover-up and misrepresentation of the conflict by Western news outlets.

“Shame!” Protesters dressed in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh cloth ran past men in tuxedos and suits and women in long dresses clutching clutch purses as dinner guests rushed inside.

“Western media we see you, we see all the horrors you cover up,” people chanted at one point.

Other protestors lay motionless on the sidewalk, next to flag underwear emblazoned with “Journal.”

“Free, free Palestine,” rallyers chanted. At one point someone inside the Washington Hilton — where the dinner has been held for decades — lowered a Palestinian flag from a top-floor hotel window and cheered.

Criticism of the Biden administration's support for Israel's military offensive in Gaza has spread across American college campuses, with students setting up camps and braving police sweeps in an effort to distance their universities from Israel. Counter-protests support Israel's attack and complain of anti-Semitism.

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

Nearly 3,000 people attended Saturday's event. Celebrities include Academy Award winner Davin Joy Randolph, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Hamm and Chris Bynes.

Law enforcement, including the Secret Service, added street closures and other measures to ensure the “highest level of security and safety for participants,” according to Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Organizers of the protest said they aimed to draw attention to the high number of Palestinian and other Arab journalists killed by Israel's military since the war began in October.

More than two dozen journalists in Gaza wrote to their colleagues in Washington last week to boycott the dinner.

“The amount we are being charged for fulfilling our journalistic obligations is shocking,” the letter said. “We are subjected to Israeli military detention, interrogations and torture, all for the crime of journalistic integrity.”

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

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Nearly 100 journalists covering the war in Gaza have been killed, according to a preliminary investigation released Friday by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Israel has defended its actions by saying they were targeting terrorists.

“Since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, journalists have paid the highest price — their lives — to defend our right to the truth. Every time a journalist dies or is injured, we lose a piece of that truth,” said CPJ Project Director Carlos Martinez de La Serna said in a statement.

Sandra Tamari, executive director of the Atala Justice Project, a U.S.-based Palestinian advocacy group that helped organize the letter from journalists in Gaza, said, “It's shameful that the media is dining and laughing with President Biden while enabling Israel's destruction and starvation of the Palestinians in Gaza.”

In addition, the Atala Justice Project launched an email campaign targeting 12 media executives at various news organizations — including The Associated Press — who were expected to attend the dinner that had earlier signed a letter calling for the protection of journalists in Gaza.

“How could you go even when your colleagues in Gaza asked you not to?” A demonstrator asked guests as they walked in. “You're complicit.”

___ Associated Press writers Mike Balsamo, Amir Madani, Fatima Hussain and Tom Strong contributed to this report.

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