Overt friction between White House, PM's hard-line coalition

Harris: Israelis deserve security, don’t ‘conflate’ them with the Israeli government

In CBS interview, US vice president vows Washington will continue to ‘stand for the security of Israel and its people,’ urges 6-week ceasefire, more humanitarian aid to Gaza

US Vice President Kamala Harris claps before US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Washington. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)
US Vice President Kamala Harris claps before US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Washington. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris drew a distinction between Israelis and their government in a TV interview on Friday, saying the two should not be conflated.

Israelis deserve security and the United States will continue to “stand for the security of Israel and its people,” Harris told CBS, when asked whether Jerusalem was at risk of losing support from Washington over its management of the war in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’s October 7 massacre in Israel.

Pointing to the Hamas onslaught, Harris specifically mentioned Israeli victims who were “horribly abused and raped, rape being a tool of war,” days after a UN expert report presented evidence of systematic sexual violence crimes by terrorists during the brutal October 7 killing spree.

“It’s important for us to distinguish or at least not conflate the Israeli government with the Israeli people. The Israeli people are entitled to security – as are the Palestinians. In equal measure,” she said in the interview with CBS News.

“And our work as always as the United States is to do what we must, and what we always have, to stand for the security of Israel and its people, and also to do what we have done behind closed doors and in public around forcing a better path forward in terms of what’s happening currently in Gaza.”

Her comments reflected the increasing public friction between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line coalition amid the Israel-Hamas war, with President Joe Biden having warned 10 days earlier that if Israel continued with the “incredibly conservative government they have, and [far-right National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir and others… they’re going to lose support from around the world. And that is not in Israel’s interest.”

The question on support for Israel came after Biden was caught on a hot mic Thursday saying that he and Netanyahu would need to have a “come to Jesus” meeting — an American expression for having a blunt conversation — on growing humanitarian concerns in Gaza.

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s brutal October 7 attack, which saw thousands of terrorists burst into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping another 253 to Gaza, mostly civilians; 130 hostages are still in Hamas captivity.

In response, Israel declared war on Hamas and vowed to destroy the Palestinian terror group, to return the hostages — over half of whom remain in captivity — and to exercise caution to protect Palestinian civilians who, according to defense officials, are used as human shields by Hamas terrorists deeply entrenched inside Gaza’s civilian fabric.

The climbing death toll, estimated by Hamas-run health officials at over 30,000 — a figure that does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, cannot be independently verified, and according to Israel includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists killed in battle — has tested US tolerance for Israel’s offensive. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

The “humanitarian catastrophe,” as described by Harris, in Gaza has also been a point of contention between Jerusalem and Washington.

The United Nations estimates that 2.2 million people — the vast majority of Gaza’s population — are at risk of famine, particularly in the north where destruction, fighting and looting make the delivery of food almost impossible.

Asked if she was losing confidence in Netanyahu, Harris responded: “This conflict has to end as soon as possible, and how it does so matters. We need to get the hostages out, we need humanitarian aid to go in and ultimately we need a two-state solution.”

She reiterated calls for a temporary ceasefire deal that was in discussions in Cairo over the past week, which senior US officials have accused Hamas of holding up.

“We need this ceasefire over the course of at least six weeks to be able to facilitate support getting in for these innocent civilians who so desperately need it,” the US vice president said, echoing remarks she made Sunday and during a meeting with visiting war cabinet minister Benny Gantz on Monday.

US Vice President Kamala Harris (2nd right) hosts war cabinet minister Benny Gantz (2nd left) at the White House on March 4, 2024. (Office of VP Kamala Harris)

Harris was one of several top US officials who met with Gantz during a visit seen as partially aimed at smoothing over bubbling Israel-US tensions. Her comments underlined intense frustration within the US government about the war, which has hurt Biden with left-leaning voters as he seeks re-election this year.

“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” Harris said Sunday at an event to commemorate the 59th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Alabama. “Our hearts break for… all the innocent people in Gaza who are suffering from what is clearly a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Those remarks appeared to be the sharpest rebuke yet by a senior leader in the US government over the conditions in the coastal enclave.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she said. “They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid.”

In his State of the Union address on Thursday evening, Biden defended Israel’s right to pursue Hamas after the terror group’s October 7 terror onslaught, while expressing his dissatisfaction with the humanitarian toll in the ensuing war.

“To the leadership of Israel, I say this: humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority,” Biden said, as Washington continued to stiffen its tone with Israel while maintaining its overall support for Israel.

Agencies and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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