‘Stop It Now’: Jill Biden Privately Urges an End to Conflict in Gaza

‘Stop It Now’: Jill Biden Privately Urges an End to Conflict in Gaza

One of the strongest voices in the White House calling for an end to civilian casualties in Gaza is the person closest to the president: Jill Biden.

At a meeting with Muslim community members at the White House on Tuesday evening, a guest told President Biden that his wife disapproved of his participation in the meeting because Mr. Biden had supported Israel in the war against Hamas.

Mr. Biden responded that he understood. The first lady, he said, urged him: “Stop it, stop it right now,” according to an attendee who heard his remarks.

Salima Suswell, the founder of the Black Muslim Leadership Council, recounted the scene in an interview, adding that she wrote down the president’s statements because it was so striking to hear the first lady feel strongly about the conflict.

“He said she said, ‘Stop, stop now, Joe,'” Ms. Suswell said.

Asked about the president’s comments, White House officials said Wednesday that there was no clarity between Mr. Biden and the first lady on the conflict and that the president was as outraged by the civilian casualties as his wife. The officials said the first lady did not call on Israel to stop its efforts against Hamas.

“Like the President, the First Lady is heartbroken by the attacks on aid workers and the continued loss of innocent lives in Gaza,” Elizabeth Alexander, the First Lady’s communications director, said in a statement. “Both want Israel to do more to protect civilians.”

The First Lady isn’t the only one urging her husband to do so. A number of Mr. Biden’s closest allies, including Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, have urged the president to do more to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza and end the war, including by supporting limits on military aid for the Israelis.

Mr. Biden faces increasing concern from other Democrats over his support for the war, as well as letters of internal disagreement, including objections from officials at about 40 government agencies.

But the first lady occupies the most influential place in Mr. Biden’s inner circle and is one of the few people who give him unvarnished opinions on policy and policy issues.

Dr. Biden has opposed American involvement in conflicts overseas in the past, including because Beau Biden, Mr. Biden’s eldest son, joined the Delaware Army National Guard in 2003 and was deployed to Iraq in 2008. She supported her husband’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, despite the deadly, chaotic effort that followed.

“I think he trusts my intuition as a spouse,” she told The New York Times in a 2021 interview, “not as a political person or advisor.”

One person who attended a White House event in the winter of 2022 was surprised by the first lady’s emotional reaction to someone praising the legacy of President George W. Bush: “He sent my son to war,” replied Dr. Biden angry, a reference to Beau, whom she had raised since childhood. “He sent my son to war.”

The conflict in Gaza is different. American troops are not on the ground, but Mr. Biden’s unwavering support of Israel over the past six months has put him completely at odds with the majority of Americans who now oppose Israel’s campaign in Gaza, according to recent polls. Some Democratic voters in battleground states including Michigan and Wisconsin are warning the president that they will withdraw their support if he continues to stand with Israel.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden issued a statement to the group saying he was outraged by the deaths of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers who were killed by Israeli airstrikes on Monday night. So far, however, there is no indication that the first lady’s private urgings have caused the president to change his policy toward Israel.

Mr. Biden is scheduled to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, according to a senior administration official. That official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Mr. Biden’s anger and frustration had reached a peak in recent weeks.

Mr Biden’s unwavering support for Israel has made it more difficult for the first lady to run the kind of campaign she did during the decades of her marriage. Like her husband, Dr. Biden was interrupted at several campaign events by people protesting U.S. involvement in the conflict.

In Arizona in March, one of Dr. Biden-led “Women for Biden” event interrupted by protesters demanding to know why the Bidens supported “genocide” in Gaza.

At other events this month in Wisconsin and Vermont, people gathered outside Democratic Party offices and donors’ homes to protest American support for the war. A keynote speech given by Dr. Biden, speaking at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Los Angeles on March 23, was interrupted by a group of people who jumped out of their seats and began chanting “Ceasefire now.”

In this case, the first lady remained silent while the protesters were removed from the room by her supporters amid chants of “four more years.” After they left, she resumed her speech.

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2024-04-04 02:12:22