Biden reminds Netanyahu to prioritize civilian life in phone call

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18, 2023. FilePhoto by Miriam Alster/UPI

Oct. 29 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden held a phone call Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he reiterated the need to prioritize human life amid the war with Hamas.

In a readout of the call, Biden reportedly affirmed Israel has a right to defend itself from what he called "terrorism" but "underscored the need to do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians."

The call came just four days after Biden also spoke with Netanyahu about conducting its military actions "in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law," in mirror language of Sunday's readout.

And on October 23, Biden and Netanyahu spoke in another phone call in which the president "underscored the need to sustain a continuous flow of urgently needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza."

Biden, 80, has long been a supporter of Israel with his latest remarks striking as the closest he has come to a condemnation of the country in decades.

As noted by the American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, Biden first visited Israel in 1973 and met with Golda Meir on the eve of the fourth Arab-Israeli war.

Meir, born in Kyiv in what is now Ukraine, immigrated to the United States as a child and became a Jewish nationalist before moving to Mandatory Palestine in 1921, ruled by the British.

Meir went on to become the prime minister of Israel in 1969 and led the country through the 1973 conflict between the fledgling Israel and its Arab neighbors in Golan Heights -- internationally recognized as Syrian territory but now occupied by Israel.

That conflict began when Arab nations launched a surprise attack to take back land seized by Israel in 1967, leading to a defeat of the Arab coalition that has affected the region up to the latest conflict.

"She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family. This went on for I don't know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it," Biden once said of that visit.

In his prior remarks, Biden recounted Meir telling him that Israel's "secret weapon" is that Jewish people "have no place else to go."

In 1982, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the U.S. Capitol that the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank would endanger support for foreign aid to Israel.

"Don't threaten us with slashing aid. Do you think that because the U.S. lends us money it is entitled to impose on us what we must do? We are grateful for the assistance we have received, but we are not to be threatened. I am a proud Jew," Begin said, according to the AICE.

The AICE praised Biden for "affection for Israel." In 2013, Biden spoke at one of the organization's policy conferences and outlined that the reason he supports the state of Israel is to ensure that Jews can protect themselves after the holocaust.

"My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble it was, like the United States," Biden said.

The AICE has noted that Biden has had a "warmer relationship" with current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than his predecessors but that the relationship has had its "embarrassments" including Netanyahu's government surprising him by announcing illegal homes in East Jerusalem in the middle of his 2010 trip to Israel as vice president to Barack Obama.

"Bibi, I don't agree with a damn thing you say," Biden said in 2012. "But I love you."