October 11, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Biden strikes a statesmen’s balance that everyone needs

The president had warnings for all sides, including Israel.

Via screenshot.
Via screenshot.

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The Israel-Hamas war goes into its fifth day with news about the Israeli government’s hostage crisis. Scores of Israeli citizens and soldiers have been abducted by Hamas. A smaller but more aggressive group called Palestinian Islamist Jihad claims to have kidnapped 30. Hostages are being held in Gaza, the AP reported. (Worse than that are reports of babies having been murdered. Jesus God, I just don’t know.)

The news also includes an announcement by one of Israel’s top generals. According to the Post, Brigadier General Dan Goldfuss said that Israeli military forces have secured the border around Gaza and that they are now “moving into the offensive now with all kinds of different capability and angles.” At a presser, Goldfuss said: “We will have to change the reality in Gaza so that this never happens again.”

As of this writing, the death toll now includes more than 1,000 Israelis and about 830 Palestinians. Thousands more have been injured. On Monday, the number of American deaths rose to 11. More than 187,000 Gazans have been displaced. More than 180,000 more are now “packed into UN shelters as Israel pounds the territory of 2.3 million people,” the AP reported. “Residents say there is no escape from the bombings. The UN says a shelter was hit directly and five others damaged.” 

Amid all this, I think it’s worth dwelling on how hard the president and other leaders of democratic governments are striking a balance between the interests of Israel and the interests of the Palestinian people who live in the Gaza Strip while placing all the blame on Hamas.

Amid all this, I think it’s worth dwelling on how hard the president and other leaders of democratic governments are striking a balance between the interests of Israel and the interests of the Palestinian people who live in the Gaza Strip while placing all the blame on Hamas. 

The US, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom together released a statement Monday conveying “our steadfast and united support to the State of Israel, and our unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism … The terrorist actions of Hamas have no justification, no legitimacy, and must be universally condemned. There is never any justification for terrorism.”

It pointedly added that: “All of us recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and support equal measures of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike. But make no mistake: Hamas does not represent those aspirations, and it offers nothing for the Palestinian people other than more terror and bloodshed.”

On Tuesday, with the vice president and the secretary of state behind him, the president condemned the attacks as “pure, unadulterated evil.” Joe Biden compared atrocities to “the worst rampages of ISIS” while stating once again that America stands with Israel and “will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself and respond to this attack.” Biden said he had one word for any enemy of Israel that’s thinking about taking advantage of the situation: “Don’t.”

But while blaming Hamas, the president again seemed mindful of the harm that can be done by conflating Hamas and Palestinians. He said: “Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination. Its stated purpose is the annihilation of the State of Israel and the murder of Jewish people. … Hamas offers nothing but terror and bloodshed with no regard to who pays the price.” 


He also seemed mindful of what might happen if America is seen to endorse Israel no matter how it retaliates against “pure, unadulterated evil.” As I said, Israeli military forces have sealed off the Gaza border, prohibiting supplies and people from coming and going. Millions live there, including a substantial population of children. A top general has said preventing future atrocities will require “changing the reality in Gaza.” I don’t know about you, but that smells of war crimes to me.

(The AP: “Israeli warplanes hammered the Gaza Strip neighborhood by neighborhood Tuesday, reducing buildings to rubble and sending people scrambling to find safety in the tiny, sealed-off territory now suffering severe retaliation for the deadly weekend attack by Hamas.”)

(Ali Velshi: “After Israel stopped fuel shipments into Gaza, the diesel-powered generators that run Gaza’s electrical generation have stopped running. … The United Nations says 260,000 Gazans have now fled their homes, without any ability to leave the sealed-off enclave.”)

As if thinking similarly, the president said during his remarks Tuesday that he has reminded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law. Terrorists purposefully target civilians, kill them. We uphold the laws of war,” Biden said. The laws of war forbid the deliberate targeting of civilians. 

(NBC News reported today that, “the Biden administration is coordinating with other countries on a plan that would offer safe passage out of Gaza for civilians who risk getting caught in the crossfire in the densely populated coastal enclave, administration officials said.”)

There’s a long way to go and much ugliness to come. (Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday that, “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. … We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”) But so far, the president is striking a statesmen’s balance, a balance everyone needs. 

(Quotes from Biden’s speech and quotes from the joint statement of five democratic governments come from Heather Cox Richardson.)


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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