President Joe Biden is stepping up his public criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the right-wing leader’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” while maintaining that the U.S. will continue providing weapons to the country.

Speaking to MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart in an interview that aired Saturday, Biden repeated the White House’s position that Netanyahu has a “right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas” after the militants launched a deadly attack on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel and took about 250 hostage.

But six months later, Israel’s retaliation ― which human rights agencies and some nations have described as collective punishment and, more recently, genocide ― has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, wounded more, displaced millions, and deprived them of adequate food, water, shelter and medicine.

Aid organizations are raising the alarm over a starvation crisis in the enclave that has particularly hit north Gaza and killed dozens, including children. The Gaza Health Ministry said the total number of those dying from hunger included only people brought to hospitals, most of which have been destroyed in the bombardment.

“He must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken,” Biden said of Netanyahu. “He’s hurting, in my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel by making the rest of the world ― it’s contrary to what Israel stands for. And I think it’s a big mistake.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu told Axel Springer, the parent company of Politico, that he did not know what “exactly the president meant,” but that if Biden was saying the prime minister was acting against Israel’s interests, he would be “wrong on both counts.”

“[The Israeli people] also support my position that says that we should resoundingly reject the attempt to ram down our throats a Palestinian state,” Netanyahu told the publication. “That is something that they agree on.”

After his State of the Union address on Thursday, Biden was caught on a hot mic saying that he needed to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the Israeli prime minister. When Capehart pressed him on what he meant, the president said he used the expression to describe “a serious meeting.”

“I’ve known Bibi for 50 years, and he knew what I meant by it,” he said, using the prime minister’s nickname.

Biden’s comments on Saturday appear to be an escalation of his public criticism of Netanyahu, after months of positioning the White House to be unconditionally supportive of the Israeli government and its military offensive, which is largely funded and armed by the U.S. government.

But despite Biden’s public concern, he has continued to reject all calls to make U.S. support for Israel conditional on the country abiding by international law.

Capehart pushed Biden on if the president has a so-called red line with Netanyahu, and if Israel potentially carrying out its threat of a ground invasion on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah ― where more than 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering after being displaced ― would cross such a line, since the U.S. has warned the country against such an offensive.

“It is a red line, but I’m never going to leave Israel,” Biden said. “The defense of Israel is still critical. So there’s no red line where I’m going to cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.”

Despite calling a Rafah invasion a red line, the president declined to say what exactly would be Israel’s consequence for again ignoring the U.S. government’s warnings.

“You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead as a consequence of going after” the militants, Biden said, stressing there are other ways for Netanyahu “to deal with the trauma caused by Hamas.”

“The first time I went over [to Israel], I sat with him and I sat with the War Cabinet, and I said, ‘Look, don’t make the mistake America made,’” he continued. “America made a mistake. We went after [Osama] bin Laden until we got him. But we shouldn’t have got into … the whole thing in Iraq and Afghanistan. It wasn’t necessary, wasn’t necessary, and it just caused more problems.”

Netanyahu also reportedly vowed to defy Biden’s “red line” and invade Rafah, claiming he has the support of multiple unnamed Arab leaders.

“We’ll go there. We’re not going to leave,” the prime minister told Axel Springer. “You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That Oct. 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

A growing number of Americans and aid groups are criticizing the president for the hypocrisy of expressing concern over Palestinian civilians’ plight while continuing to arm the Israeli military causing their plight in the first place. The U.S. has also vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire, instead trying to secure a six-week pause in fighting to trade hostages and allow aid to enter on the ground. Such a deal has not yet been agreed upon by Israel and Hamas.

The White House has started airdropping aid into Gaza and is working to build a maritime corridor to bring aid by sea, a decision that underscores how the U.S. has to go around Israel, its biggest ally in the Middle East, because the country has blocked most aid convoys from entering the enclave. On Sunday, the eve of Ramadan, starving Gaza residents scrambled for airdropped aid, most of which a resident told The Associated Press falls into the sea.

Biden, however, is continuing to suspend funding to the U.N. agency specifically tasked with aiding Palestinians, after Israel accused 12 of the group’s thousands of workers of participating in the Oct. 7 attack. Some countries who suspended funding with the U.S. have since resumed their contributions to UNRWA, which has agreed to outside audits, to help combat the hunger crisis.

Avril Benoit, the executive director of the U.S. arm of Doctors Without Borders, released a statement criticizing the president’s temporary seaport plan as a “glaring distraction from the real problem: Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate military campaign and punishing siege.”

“The food, water and medical supplies so desperately needed by people in Gaza are sitting just across the border. Israel needs to facilitate rather than block the flow of supplies,” Benoit continued. “This is not a logistics problem; it is a political problem.”


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