Biden Speech on Israel-Hamas War Interrupted by Demand for “Ceasefire Now” As Blinken Continues Shuttle Diplomacy

A pro-Palestinian activist interrupted President Joe Biden’s comments during Saturday’s Human Rights Campaign annual dinner in Washinton, D.C., chanting “Let Gaza live” and “ceasefire now.” The president paused before continuing his remarks. “Thank you for whatever you’re saying. I can’t hear you,” he said.

During his speech, Biden addressed the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” where nearly 2,500 people have been killed in the last week, as Israel responded to an unprecedented Hamas incursion last Saturday that resulted in over 1,000 Israeli deaths and 150 hostages taken back to Gaza. “Innocent Palestinian families and the vast majority that have nothing to do with Hamas — they’re being used as human shields,” Biden said Saturday. “We have to reject hate in every form.”

But the brief interruption underscored Biden’s reluctance to raise the possibility of a ceasefire in the Gaza region, even as several international aid groups have said one is necessary to provide aid to hundreds of thousands of fleeing civilians. In his first major speech on the conflict, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “If the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming.” In Washington on Sunday, Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, said the U.S. was not “making requests or demands of Israel with respect to its military operations.”

Over the past week, a schism over calls for a ceasefire has opened up in the Democratic Party, with most national leaders, including Biden, pledging unconditional support for Israel, and a smaller group of left-leaning Democrats issuing calls for restraint and de-escalation. Last week, White House Press Secretary Karen Jean Pierre responded to comments from several progressive members of the House calling for the U.S. to support a ceasefire. “We’re going to continue to be very clear. We believe they’re wrong,” she said. “We believe they’re repugnant, and we believe they’re disgraceful.”

On Friday, the Huffington Post revealed internal State Department messages discouraging diplomats from publicly calling for less violence. The internal messages, which were sent just hours after Israel publicly demanded that 1.1 million Gazans leave the northern part of the territory in advance of a ground invasion, encouraged diplomats to avoid using the phrases “de-escalation/ceasefire,” “end to violence/bloodshed” and “restoring calm.” The United Nations warned that the Israeli order would have “devastating humanitarian consequences.”

The Biden administration’s contradictory early response to the attacks has added to the confusion. As the Hamas incursion unfolded on Oct. 3, State Department officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, tweeted and then quickly deleted several comments calling for a ceasefire, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The top U.S. diplomat is currently completing a tour of Arab nations and arrived on Sunday in Cairo, where he plans to “reiterate our condemnation of Hamas’ violence in Israel, consult with Egyptian leaders on addressing humanitarian needs in Gaza, and discuss efforts to enable safe passage for U.S. citizens,” according to a post on his X account. Blinken will travel to Israel on Monday “for further consultations with Israeli officials,” said a State Department spokesperson.

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