(The Hill) – President Biden addressed the nation from the Oval Office Thursday evening.
The main topics of the 15-minute speech were the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the war in Ukraine.
The Middle East has entered a horrific new phase since Hamas killed about 1,400 Israelis in a surprise attack on Oct. 7. Israeli reprisals have killed around 3,800 Palestinians.
A ground invasion of Gaza by Israel could come at any moment.
On Ukraine, polls show American public commitment to the war wavering as the price tag for aid keeps rising.
Biden’s speech was also delivered against a backdrop of dysfunction on Capitol Hill, where the House has been without a Speaker since Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted on Oct. 3.
Here are the main takeaways from Biden’s speech.
An attempt to weave together Ukraine, Israel and Gaza
The central point of the speech was to make the case for new tranches of aid to Ukraine and to Israel.
Biden said he would deliver a request to Congress on Friday. The total request, which also includes other issues like aid for Taiwan, is expected to be for about $100 billion.
Rhetorically, Biden sought to draw parallels between the two conflicts, weaving them together into a narrative about the vital struggle against America’s foes.
Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin both want to “completely annihilate a neighboring democracy,” Biden said.
He further contended that Iran “is supporting Russia in Ukraine, and it is supporting Hamas and other terrorist groups in the region.”
The bedrock of Biden’s argument was that resolute support of U.S. allies is essential for preserving American primacy in the world.
American leadership, he contended, “is what holds the world together.” It would “put all that at risk if we walk away from Ukraine, turn our backs on Israel. It’s just not worth it.”
It was a strong case.
But Biden is also battling headwinds.
There are tensions with progressives in his own party over the rights and wrongs of backing Israel so fervently.
Republicans have long sought to characterize Biden’s leadership, at home and abroad, as weak and directionless.
Moments before the president spoke, former President Trump’s campaign issued a statement in which it held Biden culpable for “the horrific catastrophes taking place in Israel” and accused him of displaying “incompetence, radicalism, and weakness.”
A passionate call to stem hatred at home
The conflict in Israel and Gaza has resonated in the United States in grim ways.
A six-year-old Muslim boy, Wadea Al-Fayoume, died Saturday after being stabbed in an alleged hate crime about 40 miles from Chicago. His mother was also stabbed and seriously injured.
Jewish Americans have spoken of a growing sense of dread amid increasing instances of antisemitism.
The most emotional passages of Biden’s speech addressed these problems. He demanded that both Islamophobia and antisemitism should be “without equivocation” renounced.
Biden mentioned Wadea by name. He also drew a vivid picture of Jewish families worried about their children being targeted in school or being attacked themselves while “going out about their daily lives.”
In times of discord and conflict, Biden insisted, “we have to work harder than ever to hold on to the values that make us who we are.”
“We reject all forms — all forms — of hate, whether against Muslims, Jews or anyone,” he added.
On the hospital explosion, the clearest backing of Israel yet
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been in danger of widening since a Tuesday explosion at the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City. The death toll, though disputed, appears to be in the triple figures.
Palestinians blamed an Israeli airstrike. The Israelis said an errant rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad was responsible.
Biden and his administration were clearly leaning toward the Israeli version of events when the president visited Israel on Wednesday.
But in his remarks while overseas, Biden did caveat those remarks to some degree.
Meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said that “based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.” At a later appearance, he said it appeared a “terrorist group in Gaza” was responsible “based on the information we’ve seen to date.”
That trace of equivocation was gone by Thursday.
Biden said that he was “heartbroken by the tragic loss of Palestinian life, including the explosion at the hospital in Gaza — which was not done by the Israelis.”
No direct mention of Speaker gridlock
Biden had taken a shot at congressional Republicans while on Air Force One on his way back from Israel.
Asked about the struggles of House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to win the Speakership, Biden told reporters with obvious sarcasm “I ache for him.”
Jordan, a fervent Trump loyalist, is one of the most aggressive Republicans in Congress and has been especially avid in pursuing the president’s son, Hunter Biden.
However, the president avoided frontal attacks on the GOP during his Oval Office address, presumably judging that such remarks would seem discordant or petty in the somber setting.
Instead, he restricted himself to a grander sentiment — that we should not “let petty, partisan angry politics get in the way of our responsibility as a great nation.”
Perfunctory backing for Palestinian rights
Biden touched on several elements of the conflict in Israel and Gaza beyond his expressions of support for Israel.
Near the start of his remarks, he talked about the plight of Israelis and Americans taken hostage by Hamas. The total number of American hostages is unknown — roughly a dozen U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for.
“We are pursuing every avenue to bring your loved ones home,” Biden said.
The president did not ignore Palestinian views.
He asserted that the United States “remains committed to the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination” and he called on Israel to uphold “the laws of war.”
He also restated the goal of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians — though such a goal seems bleakly distant right now.
But those remarks were brief and had a perfunctory feel — especially alongside a promise to seek billions of dollars “to sharpen Israel’s qualitative military edge.”