Biden's handling of Israel-Hamas war faces criticism -- from some Democrats

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden is facing increasingly vocal opposition from a small group inside his own party on what they suggest is his bias toward Israel and against Palestinians following the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

Biden has offered full-throated support for Israel, an ally, as its war with Hamas rages on in the Middle East -- yet several members of the Democrats' progressive wing, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, have criticized his approach.

In a joint news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, Biden said 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."

But that approach does not acknowledge the Palestinian point of view, said Tlaib, the first woman of Palestinian descent in Congress.

"President Biden has not expressed one bit of empathy for the millions of Palestinian civilians facing brutal airstrikes and the threat of a ground invasion of Gaza that would intensify this humanitarian crisis," Tlaib said in a statement earlier this month.

She said the Biden administration is failing in its duty to protect all civilian and American lives in Gaza. Hamas terrorists' surprise attack killed more than 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials. More than 8,000 people have since been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

"I cannot believe I have to beg our country to value every human life, no matter their faith or ethnicity. We cannot lose sight of the humanity in each other," Tlaib said.

Biden said last week that the lives on both sides are precious.

"Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live side by side in safety, dignity, and peace," the president said during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Biden also came under fire when last week he expressed skepticism about the death toll numbers coming out of Gaza, saying he had "no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using."

Some progressive Democrats say Biden is giving lip service when he says lives on all sides matter. Omar said there appears to be a double standard when it comes to lives of civilian Israelis compared to Palestinians.

"How do you look at one atrocity and say, 'This is wrong,' but you watch as bodies pile up as neighborhoods are leveled? Israel has dropped more bombs in the last 10 days than [the U.S.] dropped in a whole year in Afghanistan. Where is your humanity? Where is your outrage? Where is your care for people?" Omar said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., an ardent Biden supporter, said she is uneasy about the president's attitude toward Israel.

"I am certainly concerned about his approach to this," Jayapal said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday.

"He needs to call us to a higher moral place," she added.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., spoke at a cease-fire rally on Friday where he condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks and said "every single life is precious."

"I am ashamed, quite ashamed to be a member of Congress at times when Congress doesn't value every single life," Bowman said. "I am ashamed to be a member of Congress when I hear our president not valuing every single life."

White House spokesperson John Kirby said during Monday's White House press briefing that all loss of life should be prevented, and that all efforts are being made to avoid civilian casualties -- no matter the side.

"Every single innocent life lost is a tragedy, every one, whether it's a Palestinian life lost or an Israeli life loss. Every one should be prevented," Kirby said. "There's no reason for these families to keep grieving -- and we're going to keep doing everything we can to work with our Israeli counterparts on the minimization of civilian casualties."

Many Democrats are deviating from Biden when it comes to a call for a cease-fire as Israeli ground forces push deeper into Gaza.

More than a dozen lawmakers introduced a resolution that urged the Biden administration to "call for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine, to send humanitarian aid and assistance to Gaza, and to save as many lives as possible."

Biden has said of a cease-fire, "we should have those hostages released, and then we can talk." Kirby said last week that a "cease-fire right now really only benefits Hamas."

Netanyahu on Monday rejected calls for a ceasefire to facilitate the release of captives or end the war.

"Calls for a cease-fire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas," Netanyahu said at a news conference Monday. "That will not happen."

And it's not just lawmakers who have expressed dissatisfaction with the administration and its perceived Israel bias -- some younger voters and college students have spoken out on the topic as pro-Palestinian students in colleges and universities around the country have held protests and walkouts.

Notably, multiple student groups at Harvard University, led by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, released a statement on the day of the attack saying Israel was "entirely responsible for all unfolding violence" -- a move that prompted backlash from Jewish student groups and university leaders. Even before the Oct. 7 surprise attack by Hamas, the U.S. had designated it as a terrorist organization.

The intraparty divide comes as Biden's 2024 presidential campaign ramps up, and he works to present himself as a tested leader on the global stage -- and one with his party's support.

Jayapal said, to win in 2024, the president has demonstrated courage with his domestic policy, but needs to match that with his handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

"The president needs to be just as courageous on this issue so that we keep the unity within our country for the support of the incredible things he has done," she said on Meet the Press.

"The American people are actually quite far away from where the president and even a majority of Congress has been on Israel and Gaza," Jayapal said. "They support the right for Israel to defend itself to exist, but they do not support a war crime exchange for another war crime. And I think the president has to be careful about that."

Wednesday, November 1, 2023 at 6:12AM by Sarah Beth Hensley, ABC News Permalink