Far-right Israeli minister's criticism of Biden sparks anger

Far-right Israeli minister's criticism of Biden sparks anger
Israel's Ben-Gvir told US news outlet WSJ that US President Joe Biden did not do enough to support Israel in its relentless military campaign in Gaza.
5 min read
04 February, 2024
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told US outlet Wall Street Journal that US President Joe Biden had not given Israel sufficient support [Getty]

 Criticism of President Joe Biden by a far-right minister in Israel's government who said Donald Trump would allow more freedom to fight Hamas sparked outrage there on Sunday, highlighting the sensitivity of relations as Washington provides key support for the offensive in Gaza.

The Biden administration has skirted Congress to rush weapons to Israel and shielded its ally from international calls for a ceasefire in the four months since Hamas’ October  7 attack that triggered the war.

But the White House has also urged Israel to take greater measures to avoid harming civilians and to facilitate the delivery of more aid to besieged Gaza.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's national security minister, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal said Biden was hindering Israel's war effort.

“Instead of giving us his full backing, Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel (to Gaza), which goes to Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said. “If Trump was in power, the US conduct would be completely different.”

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Ben-Gvir's comments as “racist” and called for international sanctions against him, saying he threatens the region’s stability.

Meanwhile, his remarks also drew responses from Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Netanyahu's three-man War Cabinet, who said Ben-Gvir was “causing tremendous damage” to American-Israeli relations.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, also posting on X, said Ben-Gvir’s remarks prove that he “does not understand foreign relations."

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Netanyahu, without mentioning Ben-Gvir by name, appeared to refer to his remarks when addressing a weekly Cabinet meeting. The prime minister thanked Biden for his support while highlighting his own experience of dealing with multiple US administrations' approaches to Israel's most important alliance.

“There are those who say ‘no’ to everything, receiving applause at home, but they’re also endangering vital interests,” he said.

Ben-Gvir, along with other far-right figures, has called for “voluntary” mass emigration of Palestinians from Gaza and for the return of Jewish settlements.

The Biden administration is opposed to any such scenario.

Ben-Gvir and other key members of Netanyahu's governing coalition have threatened to bring down the government if they believe he is too soft on Hamas.

The United States is Israel's main international ally, providing billions of dollars each year in military support.

But in recent weeks Biden has insisted on greater protection of civilians in the Gaza Strip as well as the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

Ben-Gvir's outburst against Biden came after Washington took the rare move of imposing sanctions on four settlers following rising violence against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank.

Ben-Gvir himself lives in a settlement.

Biden said the violence there had "reached intolerable levels" as he signed off on sanctions last week.

Around 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

Since October 7, more than 370 people have been killed by Israeli troops and settlers in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.

The war in Gaza has leveled vast swaths of the tiny enclave, displaced 85% of its population and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.

 The Health Ministry in Gaza said 127 bodies had been brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall death toll to 27,365. Most of those killed were women and children.

In central Gaza, Israeli airstrikes hit a house and mosque in Deir al-Balah and killed 15 people and wounded at least 45 others including children, according to multiple reports. 

Two children were killed in separate airstrikes in Rafah, according to the registration office at the hospital where the bodies were taken. The first hit a house in the Jeneina refugee camp and killed a 12-year-old.

The second hit a room west of the Rafah border crossing, killing a 2-year-old.

The bodies lay on the hospital floor. A female relative bent down to gently touch one child’s face.

More aid to Gaza will be a “top priority” as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes his latest visit to the region, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told US broadcaster CBS.

Another focus is Israel's tense negotiations mediated by the US, Qatar and Egypt aimed at freeing more than 100 remaining captives taken in the October 7 Hamas attack in return for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinians jailed in Israel.

“It’s up to Hamas to come forward and respond to what is a serious proposal,” Sullivan told NBC, adding there is no clear idea how many of the hostages remain alive.

The October 7 attack led to the killing of some 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and abducted around 250.

More than 100 captives, mostly women and children, were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Hamas has said it won't release any more hostages until Israel ends its offensive. It also demands the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu has publicly ruled out both demands.

Hamas is expected to respond to the latest ceasefire offer in the coming days.