By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday alluded to the complex relationship he has with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting the prime minister is in a “tough spot” and that the two have had their share of disagreements over the years and at present.
Biden, speaking at a White House reception for the Jewish Hanukkah festival, recalled his decades-long relationship with Netanyahu.
He noted he made an inscription on an old photograph of the two men, using a nickname for the Israeli leader.
“I wrote on the top of it, ‘Bibi I love you but I don’t agree with a damn thing you had to say.'”
“It’s about the same today,” Biden said, to scattered applause from the largely Jewish audience, adding that Israel is in a “tough spot” and that “I’ve had my differences with some Israeli leadership.”
He did not elaborate on what differences between the two men remained, though in recent weeks they have included issues spanning the current war against Hamas and treatment of Palestinians.
Biden has weathered intense criticism for his support for Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack, when the militants killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 100 hostages have since been freed.
Israel’s retaliatory assault has killed 18,205 people and wounded nearly 50,000, according to the Gaza health ministry, drawing sharp rebukes within the United States.
Biden told Jewish people celebrating the holidays at the White House that, differences with Israeli leadership aside, his “commitment” to the “independent Jewish state is unshakeable.”
He added: “Folks, were there no Israel, there wouldn’t be a Jew in the world that was safe.”
He said assistance to Israel would continue until Hamas was routed out but warned that public opinion could shift in grave ways for Israel’s security.
“We have to be careful,” Biden said. “They have to be careful. The whole world’s public opinion can shift overnight. We can’t let that happen.”
Biden said the United States would continue to work to free hostages still held in Gaza, speed humanitarian aid to Palestinians and “emphasize to our Israeli friends we need to protect civilian life.”
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Michael Perry)