Biden: Israel will get ‘everything it needs’ to fight Hamas; Gaza war is ‘not genocide’
U.S. President Joe Biden greets guests after speaking at a reception celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 20, 2024. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

By Ron Kampeas
May 20, 2024

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden told a Jewish gathering that he will ensure that Israel will have “everything it needs” to fight Hamas, a pledge that comes after weeks of tension between the governments over his pause on the delivery of large bombs.

“I’ll always ensure that Israel has everything it needs to defend itself against Hamas, and all its enemies,” Biden told a White House reception on Monday marking Jewish American Heritage Month. The crowd of several hundred in the Rose Garden cheered and applauded.

Biden also denounced the charges of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice, where a prosecutor said earlier in the day that he would be seeking war crimes charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Hamas officials.

“Let me be clear: We reject the ICC’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders,” Biden said, adding, “Contrary to allegations made against Israel in the International Court of Justice, what’s happening is not genocide.”

The comments come weeks after Biden alarmed some Jewish leaders in the United States by pausing the delivery of large bombs to Israel as its government prepared to enter Rafah, the city on the Gaza-Egypt border where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the Israel-Hamas war sought refuge, and where Netanyahu says Hamas maintains a substantial force. Biden said he was concerned about Israel’s conduct of the war and its preparedness to protect civilians.

Biden has yet to lift the pause, but tensions appear to have diminished. Israel says hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have safely evacuated from Rafah. Jakes Sullivan, the national security adviser, this week visited Israel, and reports the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government shared from his meetings conveyed agreement on most issues.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and military chief of staff Herzi Halevi “briefed Mr. Sullivan on new alternative approaches to defeating Hamas in Rafah to address the concerns that have been expressed by the U.S. side,” the White House said of the meetings Sullivan held on Monday.

Gallant’s report said he “presented humanitarian plans undertaken in Gaza that complement operational activities on the ground. This includes significant efforts to evacuate the civilian population in Rafah, facilitating the provision of humanitarian services, and operating in a precise manner to avoid harm to uninvolved civilians.”

Sullivan has sought to tamp down talk of a strategic split between Israel and the United States, relaying to the press last week 10 principles governing Biden administration policy in Israel, emphasizing U.S. support for the Israel’s overarching war goals, the release of hostages still held in Gaza, and the elimination of Hamas as a force to be reckoned with.

Biden reemphasized that comity in his Rose Garden speech. “We stand with Israel to take out [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar and the rest of the butchers of Hamas,” he said. “We want Hamas defeated, and work with Israel to make that happen.”

Republicans have said the pause on the delivery of the large bombs is a betrayal of Israel, and last week the GOP-led House voted for a bill that would keep presidents from pausing weapons delivery to Israel without congressional review. The bill was symbolic and has little chance of becoming law.

Pro-Israel Democrats have adopted a strategy of saying that the support the Biden administration continues to provide Israel dwarfs the relevance of the pause of the bombs.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish New York Democrat who is majority leader, made that argument later Monday at a conference of the leadership of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

“Under the president’s leadership and my leadership, $14 billion was given to Israel without conditions attached,” he said.

At the Jewish American Heritage Month event, Biden decried antisemitism and specified antisemitism on campuses, a key issue as pro-Palestinian protests roil campuses and in some cases devolve into attacks on Jewish students.

“In America, we respect and protect fundamental rights of free speech, protest peacefully. That’s America,” he said. “But there’s no place in any campus in America, any place in America for antisemitism for hate speech that threatens violence of any kind against Jews or anyone else.”

Biden met with the parents of an American-Israeli hostage, Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Later in the evening, Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin also addressed the JDCA event.

Polin urged those attending to help keep the 128 hostages still believed to be in Gaza front of the American mind. “We all need to be fighting every day all day to bring them home,” he said.

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