President Joe Biden offered full-throated support to the Jewish community and a fiery denunciation of those offering justification for the bloody attacks by Hamas, saying it was “unconscionable” to downplay the atrocities.
(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden offered full-throated support to the Jewish community and a fiery denunciation of those offering justification for the bloody attacks by Hamas, saying it was “unconscionable” to downplay the atrocities.
The address was Biden’s latest effort to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, even as divisions over the Middle East fester within his Democratic Party, and push back against what the president sees as a growing tide of antisemitism and hate in the US. He characterized the attack as the “deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.”
“Silence is complicity,” Biden said as he met with Jewish leaders at the White House on Wednesday to drive home a pledge to defend the community. “I want you to know, I think you’ve already figured it out, I refuse to be silent,” he said to applause.
Biden’s pledge to stand with Israel comes even as the attacks have shined new light on divisions within the Democratic Party and progressive movement over the Middle East. He often says that his 2020 White House run was spurred by images from a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Biden said he knew the attendees at the roundtable had been personally affected by the attacks, saying he could see the pain on their faces. He called Hamas’s actions “a campaign of pure cruelty” against the Jewish people.
In one of the most emotional speeches of his presidency, Biden recounted how he took his children and grandchildren to visit Dachau once they turned 14 to highlight the horrors of hate, raising his voice and slamming the lectern. The president also grew somber when he said he saw confirmed photos of “terrorists beheading children.”
“We must all do our part and forcefully speak out against antisemitism and push back against the attempts to deny or distort the facts,” the president said.
Biden’s appearance came one day after the president condemned the Hamas attackers as “pure, unadulterated evil” and promised US military assistance to Israel during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president’s Tuesday speech was carried live on television across the US and Israel, and current and former Israeli officials and Jewish leaders have lauded his unabashed, at times indignant, rhetoric about the brutality of Saturday’s attacks.
Biden has not held back support for Israel in its fight against Hamas following the militant group’s deadly surprise attack, which killed mostly civilians. He has said the US would speed defense aid to Israel and ordered an aircraft-carrier group to the region, while warning Iran to “be careful” not to intervene.
The president has also refrained from directly urging Israeli leaders to limit their military response.
Biden on Wednesday repeatedly expressed frustration that he could not detail actions the US was taking to secure the release of hostages being held by Hamas, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize those efforts. And the president said he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that while he understood the “anger” and “frustration” in Israel, it was important “that they operate by the rules of war.”
At the same time, Biden expressed concern the fallout from the war could foment anti-Jewish sentiment in the US.
“Terrorist groups like Hamas brought not only terror but sheer evil to the world, evil that echoes the worst and matches in some cases exceeds the worst atrocities of ISIS — more than 1,000 civilians slaughtered,” he said.
The president had not originally planned to stop by Wednesday’s meeting, hosted by Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and other senior White House officials.
Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, is the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president and has helped lead Biden’s campaign against antisemitism.
“We witnessed a mass murder of innocent civilians. It was a terrorist assault. There is never any justification for terrorism. There are no two sides to this issue.” Emhoff said.
Emhoff praised the work of the groups who attended to build coalitions to fight back against hate.
“I know many of us feel a deep fear that these attacks will unfortunately and already have led to a rise in hate, and antisemitism,” Emhoff said. “We’re already seeing it.”
A pro-Palestinian protester in New York City’s Times Square last weekend displayed a swastika and others carried signs advocating Palestinian return to ancestral land “by any means necessary.” Demonstrators in Sydney, Australia on Monday chanted “gas the Jews.”
Earlier: Biden Says US Rushing Military Aid to Israel Following Attack
The New York demonstration, which was promoted by the Democratic Socialists of America, drew condemnations from several Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Other DSA-endorsed lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, condemned the protesters’ rhetoric, and the Hamas attack, but also called for an “immediate ceasefire and de-escalation.”
Tensions have also risen on college campuses where pro-Palestinian student groups have come under fire, at times from university administrators, for blaming Israel for the attacks due to its occupation of Palestinian territory.
Biden has asked state and local law enforcement to step up security at Jewish community centers and synagogues. The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation are also working to identify any domestic threats arising from the Hamas attacks.
The White House meeting with Jewish community leaders was previously planned but expanded to include more organizations and the Israel-Hamas war was added to the agenda. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and J Street were among more than 20 Jewish and Israeli advocacy groups represented at the meeting, according to the White House.
–With assistance from Justin Sink.
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