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Critics Say Biden’s Mild Criticism of Israel’s War on Gaza Rings Hollow

Biden called Israel’s assault “over the top,” but did not indicate any substantive changes to US policy.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on February 8, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that he believes Israel’s assault on Gaza has been “over the top” but did not indicate any substantive changes to U.S. policy, which has been to support the war militarily and diplomatically while pushing for humanitarian aid and pauses.

“A lot of innocent people starving, in trouble, dying,” Biden said during a press conference at the White House. “It’s got to stop.”

The president’s remarks were characterized as perhaps his most direct criticism of the Israeli military’s conduct since it began its large-scale war on the Gaza Strip just over four months ago, following a deadly Hamas-led attack on southern Israel.

But critics argued that Biden’s words will ring hollow as long as his administration continues to arm Israel’s military unconditionally, oppose global efforts to enact a lasting cease-fire, and reject evidence that Israel is committing genocide. Since October 7, the U.S. State Department has twice bypassed Congress to send lethal weaponry to Israel and is working to gut lawmakers’ oversight of foreign military financing for the country.

“It’s maddening to hear him say stuff like this,” wrote journalist Mehdi Hasan. “Now he says Israel is going ‘over the top.’ Before he said they were doing ‘indiscriminate’ bombing. But throughout it all, he arms them, funds them, defends them, enables them, and refuses to call for a cease-fire.”

Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, said that if Biden truly feels Israel has gone too far in its assault on the Gaza Strip, he should “do something about it.”

“‘Over the top’ is how you might describe an action movie that was more violent than you were expecting, not an atrocity you’ve been backing to the hilt,” Duss added.

Biden’s press conference came as the Israel Defense Forces ramped up its bombardment of Rafah — where more than half of Gaza’s population is currently living in overcrowded and increasingly horrific conditions — ahead of an expected ground invasion. Israeli airstrikes on the city, located near Gaza’s border with Egypt, hit two houses on Thursday, killing and wounding multiple people.

John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told reporters Thursday that the Biden administration would not support an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah, which was previously deemed a “safe zone” for displaced Gazans.

“I think you all know more than a million Palestinians are sheltering in and around Rafah,” Kirby said. “That’s where they were told to go. There’s a lot of displaced people there. And the Israeli military has a special obligation as they conduct operations there or anywhere else to make sure that they’re factoring in protection for innocent civilian life.”

“I could tell you that — absent any full consideration of protecting civilians at that scale in Gaza — military operations right now would be a disaster for those people, and it’s not something that we would support,” Kirby added.

But the White House has not publicly said there would be any consequences if Israel decides once again to ignore the administration’s stated concerns and go ahead with the Rafah assault.

In late October, Biden administration officials privately urged Israeli leaders to rethink its plans for a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip, but Israel launched the deadly invasion anyway — and U.S. support for the country’s military did not waver.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted to begin debate on White House-backed legislation that would provide Israel with more than $10 billion in additional military aid as famine and disease spread across the Gaza Strip and the death toll grows.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposed advancing the legislation, warning in a statement Thursday evening that “so long as this bill contains $10 billion to enable [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s right-wing government to continue its horrific war against the Palestinian people, I will keep voting no.”

“The taxpayers of the United States cannot continue to be complicit in this humanitarian disaster,” said Sanders. “We should not provide another penny to allow Netanyahu to continue this incredibly destructive war.”

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