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Harris Says She Understands Gaza Protesters, as Biden Question Lingers

Protesters “are showing exactly what the human emotion should be, as a response to Gaza,” Harris said.

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on reproductive rights at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of the University of Maryland on June 24, 2024, in College Park, Maryland.

As some progressives and Democrats rally behind Vice President Kamala Harris to replace President Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee, Harris spoke in an interview about horrific conditions created by Israeli forces in Gaza amid Biden’s staunch support of Israel that progressives have long warned have hurt his chances of winning in the fall.

Speaking with Joan Walsh for The Nation published Monday, Harris struck a somewhat different tone in comparison to the rest of the Biden administration’s dismissive attitude toward Israel’s atrocities.

Harris’s team has repeatedly made clear that Harris’s differences with Biden are “not in substance but probably in tone.”

“Listen, I strongly believe that our ability to evaluate a situation is connected to understanding the details of that situation,” Harris said. “From the beginning, I asked questions.”

“OK, the trucks are taking flour into Gaza. But here’s the thing, Joan: I like to cook. So I said to my team: You can’t make shit with flour if you don’t have clean water. So what’s going on with that? I ask questions like, What are people actually eating right now? I’m hearing stories about their eating animal feed, grass … so that’s how I think about it,” she continued, noting that she raised similar concerns about access to sanitary pads and other menstruation resources.

Harris then said that she understood young pro-Palestine protesters’ frustration over Gaza, even as Biden condemned and repressed student protesters earlier this year.

“[Pro-Palestine protesters] are showing exactly what the human emotion should be, as a response to Gaza. There are things some of the protesters are saying that I absolutely reject, so I don’t mean to wholesale endorse their points,” she said, potentially referring to widely circulated but debunked narratives of widespread antisemitism within the protests. “But we have to navigate it. I understand the emotion behind it.”

The interview comes after reporting from March, when MSNBC, citing four former and current U.S. officials, revealed that the White House specifically watered down comments criticizing Israel from a speech Harris delivered on the need for a ceasefire. Officials said that she was initially supposed to call out Israel for blocking humanitarian aid into the region and demand that more aid be let into Gaza, but these portions were removed.

“The president and I have been aligned and consistent from the very beginning,” Harris told reporters in the wake of the controversy over her speech. “Israel has the right to defend itself. Far too many Palestinian civilians, innocent civilians have been killed.”

The officials also emphasized that the changes to the speech were “tonal, rather than shifts in policy,” as MSNBC wrote.

Harris’s comments come as Biden has been hemorrhaging support from those who oppose Israel’s genocide. Biden’s approval plummeted amid the genocide, especially among young voters, a crucial demographic for Democrats; for months before the debate that his put his candidacy in question, pro-Palestine advocates had warned Biden that his role in the genocide made him a uniquely weak candidate.

Much of the U.S.’s support for Israel has come through the Biden administration’s efforts to repeatedly run cover for Israel’s atrocities, often parroting Israeli propaganda talking points in the process. Meanwhile, many advocates for Palestinian rights have pointed out in recent months that Biden could end the genocide whenever he wants with a forceful phone call to Israeli officials; in April, he reportedly compelled Israel to open an aid crossing to Gaza through such a call.

Pro-Palestine voters have been telling the Democratic Party to replace Biden loud and clear. The historic “uncommitted” campaign won over half a million votes in Democratic primaries nationwide — a large number considering that many states don’t count such votes or allow an option other than the main candidates. The campaign is a show of the deep hunger from large swaths of the American electorate for Biden to be replaced with someone whose name is not forever associated, for many people, with genocide.

Despite her infrequent tonal shifts, Harris has stood by the administration as it has sent billions in military assistance to Israel since October and blocked numerous ceasefire proposals in the UN Security Council. Though Harris has sometimes offered criticisms of Israel, she also has ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and has not publicly denounced Biden’s genocide.

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