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White House

The White House’s Israel Response Could Hardly Be More Pathetic

The Biden administration can barely be bothered with an escalating human rights crisis.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaking about the Israel-Palestine conflict
PBS News

Here’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki today, discussing the ongoing turmoil in Israel and the occupied Gaza Strip during her daily press briefing:

What is happening in Israel and Gaza—with Israeli forces carrying out widespread, indiscriminate attacks on Palestinians in both places, and Hamas firing rockets at Israel in response—is urgent and serious business. But Psaki’s statement, which she read as part of her prepared remarks ahead of taking questions from reporters, could not be more rote. She’s shuffling papers around and plowing through all of the required points (Israel’s security is paramount, violence from “extremists” is bad, settlements are not productive, two-state solution, de-escalation) with the demeanor of a cashier at the end of their shift asking if you want a receipt. She’s in robot mode—say the things, go through the motions, be done with it.

It’s all a reflection of an administration that has made no secret of its desire to stay far away from the Israeli-Palestinian issue, even as Israel’s apartheid government spirals ever further to the far right, and the oppression of the Palestinians deepens. The message is clear: we don’t want to be involved unless we absolutely have to—oh, and unless Israel wants money for weapons.

I’m not sure which is worse—Paski’s pablum or the performance of State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who was unable on Monday to articulate whether he thinks Palestinians have a right to defend themselves or even whether the killing of children is worthy of condemnation. If you haven’t seen this master class in amoral evasion, take a look:

Now, the question of whether you want America to be “more involved” in these situations is always complicated, since American “involvement” is more often than not a bad thing. But the willingness of the Biden administration to casually hang around while Israel further entrenches its colonial project is instructive. (And before you email me, I would rather Hamas not fire the rockets, but Israel is the aggressor, the oppressor, the occupying colonial power, the military superpower, the nuclear-armed state, and the reason any of this violence is happening right now, both in general and in this specific instance—and the violence it is currently carrying out dwarfs any harm Hamas could ever cause. This is not a “both sides are the same” situation.) Israel is carrying out an open policy of ethnic cleansing, but the administration that is supposedly all about human rights has other things on its mind.

Paski was right about one thing, though: after she got through her prepared comments, nobody asked her any questions about Israel or Gaza. White House journalists care even less about it than she does. Robot mode worked just fine.