On Gaza war, Biden stopped worrying about facts and spread misinformation from world's top pulpit

Illustration Biden misinformation
8 min read
02 February, 2024

On 10 October, in some of his first remarks on the October 7 Hamas attack, US President Joseph Biden spoke of “stomach-turning reports of [...] babies being killed” and “entire families slain”.

According to US newspaper The Washington Post, White House staffers recommended to president Biden “that he cut a line [from his speech] about Hamas beheading babies because those reports were unverified”.

Biden reportedly dismissed the recommendation at the time.

Many Jewish groups would later praise the remarks as one of the most pro-Israel speech by a sitting American president, according to the Washington Post.

It seems that Biden’s strategy of using misinformation to present a palatable narrative domestically vis-à-vis the war might be finally running against Netanyahu’s political ambitions.

Other members of the US administration also pointed out the inaccuracies.

“100 State Department and USAID employees” signed an internal memo and shared it within the department, accusing Biden of “spreading misinformation in his Oct. 10 speech”, according to US news website Axios.

The New Arab (TNA) Investigative Unit has compiled a list of statements made by the US president that are either false or misinformed, since the start of the war on Gaza.

To date, President Biden has never publicly retracted these statements.

TNA contacted the White House for comments, but we did not receive a reply in time for publication.

“Confirmed pictures of terrorists, beheading children”

On the night of 11 October 2023, while speaking to Jewish community leaders at the White House, the US president repeated his October 10 claim that Hamas beheaded children.

“I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists, beheading children,” he said.

Later that same night, the White House would clarify to The Washington Post that “President Joe Biden and other US officials have not seen or independently confirmed that Hamas terrorists beheaded Israeli children.” 

The New Arab previously debunked this claim.

Fact Check
Live Story

The Israeli army, for its part, was forced to admit it had no evidence to support the allegation, though it continued to imply that it might be true, according to US online news organisation The Intercept.

Israeli medical forensics teams later confirmed finding bodies without heads among the casualties. However, they were not able to determine whether the bodies had been decapitated in beheadings.

Dr. Chen Kugel, head of the National Center of Forensic Medicine, told Israeli online newspaper Times of Israel: “We also have bodies coming in without heads, but we can’t definitely say it was from beheadings. Heads can also be blown off due to explosive devices, missiles, and the like.”

To date, the US administration has not presented evidence that Hamas resorted to beheadings to terrorise its enemies during the October 7 attack.

‘No confidence’ in number of Palestinian deaths

On 25 October 2023, President Biden cast doubt over the accuracy of the numbers of deaths reported by Gaza’s ministry of health (MoH).

During a press conference at the White House, he was asked whether the high numbers of casualties reported at the time - 6,000 civilians, including 2,700 children - showed that Israel disregarded US calls for minimising civilian casualties.

“What [the numbers] say to me is I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed,” responded Biden.

“I'm sure innocents have been killed, but it’s the price of waging war”, he said. “But I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using,” he added.

In response, on 27 October 2023, Gaza’s MoH released a list of 6,747 names of people killed in Israel’s bombing of Gaza.

Gaza's MoH has historically been accurate in reporting casualty numbers, which a number of US outlets and the UN rely on.

On 6 December 2023, UK medical journal The Lancet published an article showing “no evidence of inflated mortality reporting from the Gaza Ministry of Health”, running contrary to the claim made by the US president.

The article stated that “public scepticism of the current reports by the Gaza MoH might undermine the efforts to reduce civilian harm and provide life-saving assistance.”

To date, President Biden has never publicly retracted the false statements he made.

“During [the period from 7 October to 10 November 2023], mortality might have been under-reported by the Gaza MoH due to decreased capacity,” the article added.

Hamas headquarters under al-Shifa hospital is “a fact”

On 16 November 2023, President Biden was asked whether the Israeli army raid on the al-Shifa hospital was justified, given the number of civilians sheltering in it.

Al-Shifa hospital is the biggest hospital complex within the Gaza Strip. On 12 November 2023, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that it was no longer functional, after Israeli tanks had besieged it, trapping some 15,000 people inside.

In response to the question, Biden stated: “You have a circumstance where the first war crime is being committed by Hamas by having their headquarters, their military hidden under a hospital. And that’s a fact. That’s what’s happened.”

Shortly after its raid, the Israeli army made a similar claim.

On 22 November 2023, it released multiple video footage of what - it claims - “proves” the existence of a “Hamas terror complex” under al-Shifa hospital.

Multiple news outlets and military analysts concluded that, despite suggesting some presence for Hamas at the hospital, the clips did not constitute sufficient evidence that the Palestinian faction used al-Shifa as a command centre.

Amnesty International stated in a 23 November 2023 briefing that “it has no evidence to indicate that al-Shifa hospital has been used for anything other than treating patients during the current conflict in 2023.”

“Amnesty International has so far not seen any credible evidence to support Israel’s claim that al-Shifa is housing a military command centre,” the briefing added.

Netanyahu and “all two-state solutions”

On 19 January 2024, US President Biden spoke over the phone with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time in almost a month.

According to a readout of the phone conversation, “the President also discussed his vision for a more durable peace and security for Israel fully integrated within the region and a two state-solution with Israel’s security guaranteed.”

This came one day after Netanyahu stated in a news conference that he had relayed his rejection of a Palestinian state to the US.

“For 30 years, I have been consistent, saying one simple thing: this conflict is not about a lack of a state, a Palestinian state, but about the existence of a state, a Jewish state,” he said in the news conference, nationally broadcast in Israel.

Netanyahu has a long history of opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

As recently as 17 December 2023, he stated: "I'm proud that I prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state because today everybody understands what that Palestinian state could have been, now that we've seen the little Palestinian state in Gaza."

A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sees the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Such a state would comprise both Gaza and the West Bank. This is the solution that is most favoured by the international community.

On 19 January 2024, US National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby answered questions from the press regarding the phone conversation between Biden and Netanyahu.

“The president still believes in the promise and possibility of a two-state solution, and he recognizes that it’s going to take a lot of hard work,” Kirby said. “It’s going to take a lot of leadership there in the region.”

Later the same day, Biden himself reiterated the claim. According to the news agency Reuters, Biden told reporters that Netanyahu was not opposed to “all two-state solutions”.

Regardless, Netanyahu doubled down on his position, stating in a post on his X account the day after: “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over the entire area west of [the] Jordan [river] - and this is contrary to a Palestinian state.”

It seems that Biden’s strategy of using misinformation to present a palatable narrative domestically vis-à-vis the war might be finally running against Netanyahu’s political ambitions.

It remains to be seen if that will translate into a change of the approach taken by Biden when it comes to spreading misinformation about the war on Gaza.