NYT: Biden’s support for Israel now comes with words of caution

11:27 03.11.2023 •

Demonstrators flooded the Capitol and asked for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Photo: ‘The New York Times’

The administration has become more critical of Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks, a shift that U.S. officials attribute to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, notes ‘The New York Times’.

American officials have grown more strident in reminding the Israelis that even if Hamas terrorists are deliberately intermingling with civilians, operations must be tailored to avoid nonmilitary casualties. Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said at the United Nations that “humanitarian pauses must be considered,” a move that Israel has rejected.

“While Israel has the right — indeed, the obligation — to defend itself, the way it does so matters,” Mr. Blinken said, adding that “it means food, water, medicine and other essential humanitarian assistance must be able to flow into Gaza and to the people who need them.”

On Sunday, just a day after Israeli military leaders said Hamas terrorists were using a hospital in Gaza as a command center, Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, was more blunt. Mr. Sullivan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields “creates an added burden for the Israeli Defense Forces.”

He added, “This is something that we talk about with the Israelis on a daily basis.” He then noted that hospitals were not legitimate military targets just as Israel was warning that another major hospital in Gaza had to be emptied out before the next round of bombing.

The change has occurred against the backdrop of global denunciations of Israel’s actions and an explosion of divisive protests in the United States. The campus police at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., were guarding the university’s Center for Jewish Living on Sunday after online posts threatened violence against Jewish students, according to a statement by Cornell’s president, Martha E. Pollack.

Mr. Biden “is acutely aware of not only how polarized our country is, but how polarized the world is,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian and faculty scholar at the Institute of Global Politics at Columbia University. “That is the line he’s trying, I think, to follow, and it’s difficult in a polarized world, because it’s a very logical approach in a moment that provokes emotionalism.”

It became evident to U.S. officials that Israeli leaders believed mass civilian casualties were an acceptable price in the military campaign. In private conversations with American counterparts, Israeli officials referred to how the United States and other allied powers resorted to devastating bombings in Germany and Japan during World War II — including the dropping of the two atomic warheads in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — to try to defeat those countries.

Publicly, Mr. Biden’s language began to shift.

On Oct. 14, at an event in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden emphasized that “the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas and Hamas’s appalling attacks, and they’re suffering as a result as well.”

Four days later, during a brief visit to Israel, Mr. Biden pushed Mr. Netanyahu and his war cabinet to stop bombing the area of the Rafah gate between Gaza and Egypt to allow aid to flow in. Eventually, Mr. Biden announced that 20 aid vehicles, a tiny fraction of what was needed, would be allowed in.

“I was very blunt with the Israelis,” Mr. Biden told reporters aboard Air Force One as they traveled back from Israel. “Israel has been badly victimized. But, you know, the truth is that if they have an opportunity to relieve suffering of people who have nowhere to go, that is what they should do.”

He said that if Israel did not follow that advice, “they’ll be held accountable in ways that may be unfair,” but he added: “If you have an opportunity to alleviate the pain, you should do it, period. And if you don’t, you’re going to lose credibility worldwide.”

Many governments around the world have voiced the need for an immediate cease-fire. A growing number of U.S. lawmakers, including ones who in statements have emphasized their Jewish American backgrounds, say Israel should commit to “humanitarian pauses” to address the crisis in Gaza.

For Mr. Biden, the tightrope walk continues…


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