Top Biden official tells Jewish leaders: Claim that US withheld intelligence on Hamas from Israel is ‘not true’
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House, May 13, 2024 in Washington, DC. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

By Ron Kampeas
May 14, 2024

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House denied reports that the United States withheld intelligence from Israel on the whereabouts of Hamas’ leaders.

The reports alleged that the United States would provide the intelligence in exchange for Israel curbing its offensive in Rafah, the city in southern Gaza.  

“The United States is working with Israel day and night to hunt the senior leaders of Hamas, who were the authors of the brutal terrorist assault of Oct. 7,” a White House official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday.

“We are providing unprecedented support – in ways that only the United States can – to help Israel bring them to justice. And we will continue to work relentlessly toward this objective in the period ahead,” the official said. “Any report to the contrary is false. Helping Israel target the leaders of Hamas, and providing any information we have as to their whereabouts, is a top priority for us, and not a quid pro quo. None of this is dependent on operational decisions Israel makes.”

The official’s statement follows an exchange on the subject in a meeting at the White House with Jewish leaders on Monday. At the meeting — whose focus was the rollout of Biden’s strategy to combat antisemitism — Rabbi Levi Shemtov asked Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser, about the reported quid-pro-quo. 

The White House confirmed the exchange between Finer and Shemtov, the executive vice president of American Friends of Chabad (Lubavitch) in Washington, and added that Finer said, “It’s not true.” 

The forceful pushback comes as the Biden administration is endeavoring to make clear that despite recent tensions, it continues to support Israel’s war effort against Hamas.

Finer told the participants that he wanted to “clear up confusion” about President Joe Biden’s decision earlier this month to suspend the delivery of large bombs to Israel as a means of influencing the operation in Rafah.

Biden opposes a massive invasion because the city has become a refuge to hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the invasion is necessary to rout Hamas’ remaining battalions.

Israeli and conservative U.S. media expressed alarm after The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration “is offering Israel valuable assistance in an effort to persuade it to hold back, including sensitive intelligence to help the Israeli military pinpoint the location of Hamas leaders and find the group’s hidden tunnels.” The Post cited four anonymous sources.

Finer was a last minute addition to the meeting, and his presence reflected the Biden administration’s pushback against accusations that it is turning on Israel. At the meeting, Finer laid out 10 principles on the U.S.-Israel relationship at the same time that his boss, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, was stating them to the White House press corps.

“There’s been a lot more heat than light in the recent coverage and commentary about the war between Israel and Hamas,” Sullivan said at the briefing. “The United States has sent a massive amount of military assistance to Israel to defend itself against all threats, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran and its other proxies. We are continuing to send military assistance and we will ensure that Israel receives the full amount provided in the supplemental.” The supplemental is the $26 billion that Congress recently approved in emergency defense assistance to Israel and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.

The other principles Sullivan listed covered the Biden Administration’s commitment to removing Hamas from power; the return of Israeli hostages still held in the Gaza Strip; the need for a diplomatic solution as an outcome of the war; the urgency of delivering humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians; and the rejection of the charge that Israel is committing genocide.

Participants said that Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, welcomed the rejection of the genocide charges, but said the message was obscured by some of the rhetoric emerging from the Biden administration on how Israel handles human rights, including a State Department report last week saying that there were credible reports of Israel violating international law. 

The meeting, co-chaired by Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish second gentleman; Neera Tanden, Biden’s top domestic policy adviser; and Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, his top national security adviser, otherwise focused on the progress of the White House’s strategy to combat antisemitism as it nears its one-year anniversary on May 25.

Participants said the officials focused on areas of improvement, particularly related to universities, where administrators have struggled to balance free expression with what some Jewish students have said is an atmosphere made hostile by anti-Israel encampment protests.

“It’s about empowering and if necessary pushing campus administrators to understand their role in enforcement of, in many cases, their own existing policies,” said Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Julie Fishman Rayman, the American Jewish Committee’s managing director, said the tone of the meeting was not one of triumph, but of having more work to do.

“Liz Sherwood Randall made a really nice statement, saying that the way they’re thinking about the strategy is the opposite of Dayenu,” Rayman said, referencing the song from the Passover haggadah whose refrain means “enough.” “Like, it’s never enough, and they have to do better because the problem keeps getting worse.”

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