By: Philip Wegmann
President Biden meant it when he said, “This is not about party or politics.”
On Tuesday, the White House condemned “repugnant” and “disgraceful” comments from members of Congress equating the terrorist attack by Hamas with previous actions taken by Israel. Notably, this rebuttal applies to Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri.
“I’ve seen some of those statements this weekend,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told RealClearPolitics, “and we are going to continue to be very clear: We believe they are wrong.”
“Our condemnation belongs squarely with terrorists who have brutally murdered, raped, and kidnapped hundreds of Israelis. There can be no equivocation about that. There are not two sides here,” Jean-Pierre continued.
This was a continuation of a message the president stressed directly moments earlier in the East Room of the White House. Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden said forcefully, “Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond, indeed has a duty to respond, to these vicious attacks.”
Biden pledged U.S. support to Israel after the Hamas vicious surprise attack targeting civilians over the weekend. More than 1,000 Israelis are dead and as many as 150 people, most of them civilians, are being held hostage in Gaza, where Hamas has threatened to execute them publicly. Biden also confirmed that at least 14 Americans had been killed and that U.S. citizens were among those kidnapped by the terrorists.
The rare denouncement comes after Tlaib released a lengthy statement grieving “the Palestinian and Israeli lives lost yesterday, today, and every day” before calling for the “dismantling the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance.” She stopped short of condemning Hamas.
A vocal critic of Israel, Tlaib, a Palestinian American who represents Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, denounced a House resolution supporting Israel during a speech in July.
Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, told reporters Tuesday that the White House was committed to providing Israel with munitions to protect itself, including ammunition for the Israeli Iron Dome, which intercepts rockets. On Saturday, Cori Bush urged the administration to do the opposite.
Like Tlaib, the St. Louis-area Democrat called Israel “an apartheid state.”
“As part of achieving a just and lasting peace, we must do our part to stop this violence and trauma by ending U.S. government support for Israeli military occupation and apartheid,” Bush said in a statement after noting that she was “heartbroken” by the violence.
Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, condemned those remarks, writing on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, “How much more blood needs to be spilled for you to overcome your prejudice and unequivocally condemn Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror organization?”
And on Monday, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who was recently ousted as speaker, expressed revulsion for Democrats who demonize Israel, suggesting that their real motivation isn’t objection to Israel’s policies but bigotry against Jews.
“As speaker, I watched a number on the other side of the aisle try to reserve a building in here to celebrate antisemitism,” McCarthy said of Tlaib without mentioning her by name. “Allowing elected members of this body to speak antisemitism and not condemn it,” the former speaker said, “is wrong. To avoid it is wrong.”
While the White House censure was rare, it also came after initial confusion. Over the weekend, in statements shared by the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs and Secretary of State Blinken, the administration seemed to call for “a cease-fire.” Both those statements were deleted from social media, and a spokesman for the State Department told RCP that they “did not accurately reflect” the position of the administration.
On Tuesday, there was nothing equivocal about where the president stood. During a call with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Biden said that if “the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming.”