Biden’s Trip To Israel

Heather Cox Richardson

President Joe Biden spoke today in Tel Aviv, Israel, reiterating support for the Israelis but also hammering on the need to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

Biden called the actions of Hamas “pure unadulterated evil” and noted that such brutality “would have cut deep anywhere in the world, but it cuts deeper here in Israel.” The attack,” he said, “has brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by…millennia of antisemitism and the genocide of the Jewish people.” In the past, he said, the world watched and did nothing, but “[w]e will not stand by and do nothing again. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.” 

Biden promised the U.S. is working to recover the hostages, and he empathized with those who had lost loved ones. He promised that Israel would always be a safe home for the Jewish people. He promised military aid and once again warned “any state or any other hostile actor thinking about attacking Israel…. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” 

But in a statement that spoke to the Arab world, Biden also warned Israel not to give into the “primal feeling” of “[s]hock, pain,… an all-consuming rage.” “I caution this,” he said: “While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.” 

Biden also appeared to speak to the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he spoke about what it means to be a war leader. “[I]t requires being deliberate,” he said. “It requires asking very hard questions. It requires clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you are on will achieve those objectives.” 

“The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas. Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.”

Biden reiterated that Hamas uses families in Gaza as human shields, putting command centers, weapons, and communications tunnels in residential areas. “The Palestinian people are suffering greatly as well,” Biden said. And then he took on the issue of yesterday’s explosion at the hospital in Gaza, expressing outrage and sadness. 

And then he clarified what had happened in that explosion: “Based on the information we’ve seen to date, it appears the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza.” This statement reflects the assessment of the U.S. Defense Department and was echoed today by the Senate Intelligence Committee, with a Democratic majority, and the House Intelligence Committee, with a Republican majority.  

“While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said today. 

Biden went on to explain that the United States stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict—a key tenet of the laws of war—and said “I grieve—I truly grieve for the families who were killed or wounded by this tragedy.” 

“The people of Gaza need food, water, medicine, shelter,” Biden said, adding that he had asked the Israeli cabinet to agree to the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. He said that Israel has agreed, based on the promise that the aid would go to civilians. Should Hamas divert or steal that aid, he said, access will stop and Hamas “will have demonstrated once again that they have no concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people.” Biden said the U.S. is working closely with Egypt and the United Nations to get trucks moving across the border as quickly as possible. It is also demanding that the International Red Cross be able to visit Hamas’s hostages. 

Biden also announced that the U.S. will dedicate $100 million in new funding for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and the West Bank to help the more than 1 million displaced Palestinians. 

Biden urged Israelis to remember that their state is a democracy. It must live not by the rules of terrorists, but by the rule of law. “What sets us apart from the terrorists is we believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life—Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Jew, Muslim, Christian—everyone,” he said. “You can’t give up what makes you who you are. If you give that up, then the terrorists win.  And we can never let them win.”

“Nations of conscience like the United States and Israel are not measured solely by the example of their power,” he said. “We’re measured by the power of our example. That’s why, as hard as it is, we must keep pursuing peace. We must keep pursuing a path so that Israel and the Palestinian people can both live safely, in security, in dignity, and in peace.” “For me, that means a two-state solution,” he said. He also reiterated that Israel must be better integrated with its neighbors. 

“May God protect all those who work for peace,” Biden concluded. “God save those who are still in harm’s way.”

The speech was one of Biden’s best, drawing on personal experience, religion, history, politics, and the present. But it was not just rhetoric. Biden’s personal arrival in an area at war—his second as president—and his adamant support for Israel were a key demonstration that the U.S. does not want this war to expand, either by the introduction of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia or by Israeli overreaction in the Palestinian territories. 

It also put Netanyahu on notice that the U.S. is watching his actions. As David Rothkopf discussed today in The Daily Beast, Netanyahu allied himself with former president Trump and has appeared to consider his U.S. relationships with right-wing figures more important than his relationship with Biden. Now, with his own government on shaky ground as Israelis blame him for failing to protect them, Netanyahu jumped at the chance to be seen with Biden, whose response to the explosion and his steady handling of the ongoing crisis has made him enormously popular.

On Air Force One on the way home, Biden told reporters that his quest to get humanitarian aid had succeeded. Egypt has agreed to send up to 20 trucks of aid to Gaza, seemingly testing whether the aid will get through and if it will disappear into the hands of Hamas. If Hamas “doesn’t let it get through or just confiscates it, then it’s going to end,” Biden said. He continued: “[T]he bottom line is that [Egyptian president Abdel Fattah] El-Sisi deserves some real credit because he was very accommodating and, quite frankly, as everyone I’ve spoken to thus far since this trip began.” 

Biden said that Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield was already in Cairo to coordinate the aid.

When reporters asked if Biden was disappointed that his trip to Jordan was canceled, the president said no and laughed. “Disappointed? Look, I came to get something done. I got it done…. Not many people thought we could get this done, and not many people want to be associated with failure…. [H]ad we gone and this failed, then, you know, the United States failed, Biden’s presidency fails, et cetera, which would be a legitimate criticism…. I thought it was worth taking the chance to get it done.” 

Biden’s steady hand, experience, and courage stood in contrast today to the House Republicans in the ongoing fight to elect a speaker. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a far-right extremist and key Trump ally, lost more votes in the second round of voting than in the first, in part because he and his allies infuriated colleagues by threatening people. After saying yesterday that it was imperative to finish the balloting and get on to the people’s business, today he announced he would not retire from his crusade but would keep trying to get the votes he needs as the crisis stretches into a third week.

The House will vote again tomorrow, but Republicans predict Jordan’s support will fall even further. Some Republicans are exploring the possibility of sidestepping the question of electing a speaker by expanding the powers of acting speaker Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC).

On Thursday night, President Biden will address the nation from the Oval Office.

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