President Joe Biden has warned that Israel is losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza.
His unusually strong language came just hours before the United Nations demanded a humanitarian ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
“Israel’s security can rest on the United States, but right now it has more than the United States. It has the European Union, it has Europe, it has most of the world supporting them,” Biden said to donors during a fundraiser.
“They’re starting to lose that support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place,” he said.
The president said he thought Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu understood, but he wasn’t so sure about the country’s war cabinet.
Israeli forces have carried heavy strikes across Gaza, destroying many Palestinians’ homes as the military presses ahead with an offensive that officials say could go on for weeks or months aimed at wiping out Hamas.
Biden offered a harder-than-usual assessment of Israel’s decisions since Islamist group’s attack on October 7, and the moves taken by Netanyahu’s conservative government.
Meanwhile, Biden’s top national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, is heading to Israel this week to consult directly about timetables for ending major combat.
The president also renewed his warnings that Israel should not make the same mistakes of overreaction that the US did following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He recounted a familiar anecdote about inscribing on a photo with Netanyahu decades ago, “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you have to say.” This time, the president added to his retelling of the story: “That remains to be the case.”
The 2024 campaign fundraiser was part of a gathering of Jewish donors, many of whom attended a White House Hanukkah reception on Monday evening; Biden’s fundraisers are open to some reporters on the condition that no audio or video be shared.
Hours later, during a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Biden refrained from offering the same public criticism again, but said that he had made it clear to Israel “the safety of innocent Palestinians is still of great concern”.
“The actions they’re taking must be consistent with attempting to do everything possible to prevent innocent Palestinian civilians from being hurt, murdered, killed, lost,” Biden said, adding, that it was important to remember “what we’re doing here”.
“We’re here to support Israel because they’re an independent nation and the way in which Hamas treated Israel is beyond comparison,” the president added.
Biden’s rhetoric to donors tracks his more candid and private messaging to Netanyahu on their frequent calls, according to two White House officials, where he reasserts US support for Israel before pushing for Israel to do more to help civilians in Gaza.
“Israel has a tough decision to make. Bibi has a tough decision to make. There’s no question about the need to take on Hamas. There’s no question about that. None. Zero,” Biden said.
However, he said of Israel’s leader: “I think he has to change his government. His government in Israel is making it very difficult.”
Biden specifically called out Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of a far-right Israeli party and the minister of national security in Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
He opposes a two-state solution and has called for Israel to reassert control over all of the West Bank and Gaza.
Ben-Gvir sits on Israel’s security cabinet, but is not a member of the country’s three-person war cabinet. The comments prompted responses from both the Israeli military and also Hamas.
“We know to explain exactly how we operate with precision, based on intelligence, even when we are operating on the ground,” said Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari.
“We know how to operate against the Hamas strongholds in such a way that best separates the uninvolved civilians from terrorism targets.”
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