Abdelnasser Rashid

State Representative Abdelnasser Rashid (D-Bridgeview) urged President Joe Biden to call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, something that Biden has so far refused to do.

Rashid was at the White House last week to be in the audience when Biden signed an executive order about artificial intelligence. While at the White House and in Washington, D.C., Rashid, the first Palestinian American to serve in the Illinois General Assembly, took advantage of the opportunity to talk with White House officials about war in Gaza and Israel. 

“The longer it takes for President Biden to call for a cease-fire and the more civilians are killed and injured, the more that public trust in his leadership will erode,” Rashid told The Landmark.

Biden has so far refused to call for a cease-fire. Instead, the president has said that Israel has the right to defend itself after a surprise early morning attack on Oct. 7 by the Hamas militant group that governs Gaza. It killed at least 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and Hamas is holding 240 people hostage. 

The White House has called for brief humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow for some supplies to be brought to the Gaza Strip. Israel has bombed Gaza in response to the Hamas attack and has invaded Gaza with ground troops. It is estimated that about 9,000 Gazans have been killed in the Israeli bombings and invasion.

Rashid told The Landmark that American public opinion supports a cease fire.

“I think that the President’s failure to call for an immediate cease fire is seriously eroding the public’s trust in his leadership,” Rashid said, citing a poll from the progressive think tank Data for Progress. “Eighty percent of Democrats support a cease fire and 66% of Americans, so I hope President Biden is listening to where Americans are at.”

Rashid declined to say which White House officials he spoke with, but said that he did not speak directly to Biden.

Rashid said that he felt a responsibility to make his views known about the situation in Gaza while he was at the White House for the signing of the executive order about AI. He was asked if he felt any hesitancy about attending the White House event at a time when some signs at Palestinian protest rallies have accused Biden of being complicit with genocide.

“I take my responsibility as a leader on AI in Illinois seriously, so attending the signing ceremony for the executive order was important for me to be able to help do my job better on that issue and I feel a responsibility and an obligation as someone who has a platform and who has access to political leaders to fight for human rights and to make sure that our country does not continue going down this path of blind support for indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” Rashid said.

The Landmark asked Rashid, who spent part of his childhood in a Palestinian village on the West Bank that is a territory controlled by Israel, whether he thought hostages should be released in exchange for a cease fire.

“The cease fire needs to be immediate, and the absence of a cease fire endangers those hostages,” Rashid responded. 

Rashid said that the war must stop.

“There is no military solution to the siege on Gaza that has trapped 2.3 million people in an open-air prison and has deprived them of food, water, electricity and fuel, and has created a mental health crisis,” Rashid said. “There is no military solution to this conflict; the only path forward is for us to end the siege and end the occupation so that we protect both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Rashid was invited to the signing of Biden’s executive order on AI because he is a co-chairperson of a new state task force on artificial intelligence. The executive order that was signed by Biden Oct. 30 requires that developers of AI systems that might pose risks to the national security of the United States, the economy, or public health and safety to share the results of safety tests with the federal government.

“It’s a very important executive order that helps build a framework for how government should speak about regulating artificial intelligence,” Rashid said. “It is a very thoughtful document, but it is still the starting point; this is not federal legislation; this is not state legislation but it’s a very meaningful starting point.”

Rashid said composition of the state AI task force has not been fully filled out, so the task force hasn’t had any formal meetings yet. Rashid said that there are several issues involving AI that need to be addressed, such as the use of deep fakes and the protection of privacy and confidentiality.

“We have some ideas about the areas that need particular attention,” Rashid said. “The public expects us as lawmakers to protect them from the harms that AI can create while we embrace the benefits that AI has to offer. The public is really counting on us to help protect them from the harms.”