Biden comments on Israel weapons pause draw mixed reaction from US Jewish community

After President said Rafah invasion was 'red line', some are disappointed while others express support

Israeli flags surround a pro-Palestine protest camp at the MIT campus in Massachusetts. Americans are divided over how to their country should respond to the Gaza war. AP
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Jewish-American organisations on Thursday issued varying responses to US President Joe Biden's threats to halt some weapons shipments to Israel amid an assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

After Mr Biden drew a new “red line” on the Israeli invasion of a city. where more than a million Palestinians are taking shelter, some in America's Jewish community said they were upset, while others expressed support for the decision.

“We are deeply disappointed and dismayed by President Biden’s counterproductive remarks regarding the potential cessation of congressionally mandated aid to our ally Israel,” Harriet Schleifer and William Daroff, heads of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, said in a statement.

The Conference of Presidents is an umbrella group comprising 50 national organisations that agree on US-Israel issues. “Congress recently approved this aid with a bipartisan supermajority, which should signal to the Biden administration that support for Israel in her existential war remains strong,” the statement added.

It was referring to $26 billion in funding for Israel recently passed.

Mr Biden on Wednesday told CNN that the US would not supply Israel with weapons and ammunition if it invades Rafah.

Israel has already taken control of the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing and ordered residents in large parts of the city to relocate, in what it describes as a “limited” operation. Dozens in Rafah have already been injured or killed in the Israeli bombardment.

The Pentagon on Wednesday said it paused a weapons transfer of “high-payload munitions”, the first time it publicly confirmed restrictions on security support for Israel.

“It is contrary to the American national interest to deny Israel the munitions and support needed to remove Hamas from power in the Gaza Strip permanently,” the statement from the Conference of Presidents said.

Influential lobbying group the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee used X to share posts showing support for politicians criticising the Biden administration for appearing to abandon its ally.

But Americans for Peace Now, a progressive Jewish group focused on bringing an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, called the Biden administration's decision “necessary”, given the high risk to civilians in Rafah.

“Rafah is unquestionably a red line for the Biden administration,” APN president and chief executive Hadar Susskind said in a statement.

“This difficult decision reflects the gravity of the crisis, and many months of brazen defiance by the Netanyahu government of its most important ally and friend. Aid to Israel cannot proceed as if nothing has changed and Netanyahu remains a trusted ally.”

The UN estimates at least 1.4 million people are living in Rafah after Israel ordered Palestinians to leave their homes in other Gazan cities amid military operations against Hamas.

Israel's stated aim in the war is the defeat of Hamas, and it says the militant group has battalions stationed in Rafah.

More than 34,900 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel's military operations, local officials estimate.

Israel's actions began after a deadly Hamas attack in October, where Israel says up to 1,200 people were killed and scores taken hostage.

“We are saddened that the Israeli government continues to place its own citizens and over a million Gazans at risk, and that this decision is a necessary step,” Mr Susskind said. “We stand behind the President.”

In a statement, pro-peace Jewish organisation J Street praised the “measured step” in holding weapons shipments.

The group also urged the Biden administration to complete its review of whether the Israeli government has complied with US and international law when using American weapons. A report on the issue has been delayed after an expected release on Wednesday.

Updated: May 16, 2024, 5:17 AM