‘Nobody’s hands are clean’: Obama, some Democrats break with Biden on support for Israel

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(WASHINGTON) — Democratic support for President Joe Biden is wavering when it comes to his backing of Israel amid its conflict with Hamas, with several members of his own party, including former President Barack Obama, saying more must be done to avoid killing Palestinian civilians.

Biden has tried to strike a balance by arguing Israel has a right to self-defense while warning Israel to be as careful as possible. But Obama, who has for the most part kept a low profile since leaving the presidency, in comments that surfaced over the weekend, appeared to split with his former vice president who has publicly supported Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu, saying, “nobody’s hands are clean.”

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, since Israel began a bombing and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip after the surprise Hamas terror attack on Oct. 7 killed more than 1,400 Israelis, according to Israeli officials.

“If you want to solve the problem, then you have to take in the whole truth. And you then have to admit nobody’s hands are clean. That all of us are complicit to some degree,” Obama said on “Pod Save America” — the podcast hosted by four of his former aides. An excerpt was posted to X on Saturday ahead of the full podcast release Tuesday.

Obama said the Israeli “occupation” and “what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”

“There are people right now who are dying who have nothing to do with what Hamas did,” Obama said, making the distinction between Palestinians who live in Gaza and the militant group Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.

While Obama didn’t take a direct swipe at Biden, his comments appear to go against the Biden administration’s staunch support of Israel. Biden has offered full-throated support for Israel, an ally, as its war with Hamas rages on in the Middle East.

Last month, he told Netanyahu that the U.S. “will continue to have Israel’s back” and that the U.S. will stand with Israel “today, tomorrow and always — we promise you.” Last month, Biden said that lives on both side are precious.

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he used his most recent face-to-face meeting with Netanyahu to make the U.S. case for temporary pauses in the fighting, which he argued were critical to protecting civilian lives, allowing humanitarian aid to move into Gaza and boosting efforts to free the scores of hostages held in the enclave for nearly a month — laying out the administration’s updated strategy for managing fallout from the conflict.

Asked for a response to Obama’s comments, a White House official didn’t directly address whether the former president deviated from Biden’s stance, instead describing the comments as Obama’s overview on the “complex history” and why that can’t be “distilled into a social media post.”

“I’d leave it to the former president’s team to speak to his comments,” the White House official said.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who has not been shy about criticizing Biden’s approach in Gaza, posted a scathing video on X on Friday in which she accused Biden of supporting a Palestinian “genocide.”

In the video, Tlaib, the first woman of Palestinian descent in Congress, calls for a cease-fire in the conflict. Biden and his administration have resisted calling for a general cease-fire, but have urged humanitarian “pauses” to allow civilians to exit Gaza and for aid to flow in.

“Mr. President, the American people are not with you on this one,” Tlaib says in the video.

At the end of the video, a black screen appears with the words: “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Later, the post says, “Biden, support a ceasefire now. Or don’t count on us in 2024.”

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Israel must halt the bombings — especially given the toll the attacks are taking in civilian lives.

“Israel has a right to defend itself. But what Israel does not, in my view, have a right to do is to kill thousands and thousands of innocent men, women and children who had nothing to do with that attack,” Sanders said, later adding “we have got to stop the bombing now.”

Last week, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut called the civilian deaths “unacceptable” and urged Israel to “reconsider its approach and shift to a more deliberate and proportionate counterterroism campaign.”

“It’s time for Israel’s friends to recognize that the current approach is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of ending the threat from Hamas,” Murphy wrote in a statement posted to X.

Pro-Palestinian sentiments can be heard at many protests around the country. Notably, thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., over the weekend to call for a cease-fire and an end of the siege on the Gaza Strip. Protesters filled many D.C. streets before gathering outside the White House, chanting “Free, free Palestine” on Saturday.

Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, one of the groups that organized the protest, wrote on its website that “Israel, with the full backing of the U.S. government, is carrying out an unprecedented massacre in Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians are being killed with bombs, bullets and missiles paid for by U.S. tax dollars.”

As the conflict enters a month, Americans are continuing to take note and have strong opinions about Biden’s role. Recent polls gathered by 538 show around 70% of American adults said they were following news of the war either very closely or somewhat closely.

While polls showed that most Americans side with Israel in the conflict, they also showed that most Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the crisis. An SSRS/CNN poll found only 47% of Americans trusted Biden “moderately” or “a great deal” to make the right decisions about the situation in Israel. The remaining 53% trusted him “not much” or “not at all,” 538 noted.

Last week, the House approved a Republican-led aid package to Israel, which would provide $14.3 billion to Israel. It faces little chance of becoming law, however, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announcing last week that the Senate will not take up the House-passed Israel aid bill because Senate Democrats largely reject the bill’s proposal to pay for aid by cutting from IRS funding.

Instead, Schumer said, the Senate will continue work on a more robust package proposed by President Biden that will likely include aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan as well as funds for the southern border. It’s not yet clear how long it will take to move such a package to the Senate floor.

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