Biden speaks with Netanyahu as tensions over the Israel-Hamas war mount in the US


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden held a phone call on Sunday with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the backdrop of growing U.S. college campus protests and a possibly imminent invasion of Rafah.

The two discussed areas of commonality, with Biden “reaffirm[ing] his ironclad commitment to Israel’s security” after Iran’s missile and drone attack on the country earlier this month, the White House readout said. The leaders reviewed hostage and cease-fire discussions and talked about humanitarian aid in Gaza as well.

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But the call also underscored daylight between the two on Israeli strategy in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. Netanyahu shows no signs of backing away from a ground offensive there — a potential move that the U.S. publicly opposes.

“The leaders discussed Rafah and the President reiterated his clear position,” the readout said.

More than a million Palestinians are currently sheltering in the city.

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Earlier on Sunday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during an ABC News interview that Israelis have “assured us they won’t go into Rafah until we’ve had a chance to really share our perspectives and concerns with them.”

“So we’ll see where that goes,” he added.

The call comes as pro-Palestinian protests sweep across college campuses. Though protesters’ demands differ across schools, many of the student organizers are calling for an end to the war and urging their universities to divest from companies that do business in Israel.

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Biden has faced criticism from progressives and Muslim Americans for his support for Israel, a longtime U.S. ally, following Hamas’ surprise terrorist attack on Oct. 7. At the same time, others have called on him to denounce the rising antisemitism on college campuses.

Sunday’s conversation was Biden and Netanyahu’s first phone call since April 4, when Biden spoke with Netanyahu after an Israeli airstrike killed seven World Central Kitchen humanitarian workers.

During the earlier April call, Biden “emphasized that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable,” according to the White House readout.

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In the days following the aid workers’ April 1 deaths, the administration’s public rhetoric toward the Israeli government sharpened as the president criticized his Israeli counterpart more than he had previously. Biden said in early April that he thinks Netanyahu is making a “mistake” with his handling of the war, adding, “I don’t agree with his approach.”

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