Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Kamala Harris’ Gaza speech watered down by administration officials before delivery

By 37ci3 Mar5,2024



WASHINGTON – Before Vice President Kamala Harris made strong statements about the need for an immediate six-week ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as part of a deal to release hostages on Sunday, National Security Council officials played down parts of her speech, while three current U.S. officials and a former US official familiar with the speech told NBC News.

An initial draft of Harris’s speech, sent to the National Security Council for review, was harsher on Israel about the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the need for more aid than his final remarks. of present officers and ex-officio.

One US official said that the original draft specifically stated more directly the need to allow additional aid trucks to enter Israel immediately. The official described Harris’ original language as strong but not controversial.

The move to tone down Harris’ comments underscores how reluctant the White House remains to aggressively criticize Israel in public as President Joe Biden tries to maintain some influence over the Israeli government and broker a deal on hostages.

Current officials said the changes are tone, not policy, and reiterated Harris’ comments about the truce. Biden said two days ago and the administration’s position on the war.

“That’s inaccurate,” said Kirsten Allen, Harris’ communications director, when asked about reports that Sunday’s speech was watered down and less aggressive.

Allen also provided a separate statement to NBC News explaining his position on Harris’ remarks.

“Given recent events, the Vice President felt it was important to address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and to reiterate our Administration’s call for Hamas to accept the terms of the hostage agreement,” he said.

As is the protocol for most senior White House directors speaking on foreign policy, Harris’ speech was submitted to the National Security Council and West Wing staff for review, and a number of changes were made. Harris’ office. Officials said the edits were made at the last minute, as is often the case with live foreign policy matters.

The National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Harris’ comments about the Middle East came at the start of a speech on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to mark the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday — a day when civil rights activists, including the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., called for racial justice. he was beaten by the officers of security agencies.

Harris, among other things, stressed the importance of Israel allowing aid to Gaza, which he called a “clear humanitarian disaster.”

He noted that last week the Ministry of Defense sent the first humanitarian aid from the air to Gaza and said that the United States will continue this aid. He also said, “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid.”

“They need to open up new frontiers for aid,” Harris said. “They should not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure that humanitarian personnel, sites and convoys are not targeted. And they must work to restore basic services and restore order in Gaza so that more food, water and fuel can reach those in need.”

But his comments about the ceasefire drew the most attention.

“And given the enormous scale of suffering in Gaza, there needs to be an immediate ceasefire for at least six weeks like what’s currently on the table,” Harris said to thunderous, sustained applause. “It will remove the hostages and receive a significant amount of aid. It will allow us to build something more sustainable to secure Israel and respect the dignity, freedom and self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

While Harris echoed the policy stance taken by the Biden administration in recent weeks, his forceful delivery went viral, with thousands of people posting his comments online and several media outlets covering them. It was a landmark moment for Harris, who has long been criticized for not being visible enough as vice president.

A number of activists and faith leaders are pushing Biden to call for a permanent ceasefire, but so far the administration has not done so.

Although it became clear that Harris was not saying anything new, his words continued to attract attention. Those close to her believe her words stuck, both because of her delivery and because she delivered them on the anniversary of a key chapter in the Civil Rights Movement. Others said his message, which highlighted the challenges faced by civilians in Gaza, was particularly effective.

“He’s done what he can, which is to take policy issues, break them down in a way that people can understand, and then deal with them with his passion and his sense of what’s right,” said Democrat Leah Daughtry, one of the clergy and Black church leaders pushing for a permanent truce. a political strategist with close ties to Harris’ office who co-founded the Black Church PAC. “It all came together in a way that we’re still talking about.”

An official in Harris’ office said Biden decided he wanted to talk about Gaza in his speech in Selma after the administration said Friday it would support a six-week ceasefire as part of a deal on hostages.

“We’re trying to get a deal between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said in the Oval Office. “The return of hostages and an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for at least the next six weeks. And to allow aid to increase not only in the south, but throughout the entire Gaza Strip, the entire Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Harris’ team made sure to stress that there was no disagreement between him and Biden. After speaking at a firefighters’ union conference at a Washington hotel, he was ushered into a hallway where reporters got close enough to question Harris’ reaction to his words.

“The president and I were compatible and consistent from the beginning,” Harris told reporters. “Israel has the right to defend itself. “Too many peaceful Palestinians, innocent civilians have died.”

A senior Biden administration official echoed that sentiment on Monday.

“He’s on the same page as the president,” the person said.

Still, the public took notice of Harris.

Democratic strategist Christopher Huntley, who served as speaker for Harris last year, said he thought his speech struck a chord because of its delivery and structure.

“There was a clear choice to use the words ‘immediate ceasefire,'” he said. “It broke because it was very clear language, it was direct, and it spoke to the hearts of young, black and brown people in particular, and young voters who are really, really worried about this issue.”

“It happened right at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, where that generation’s struggle for justice, equality, civil and human rights was defined,” he said. “This legacy was very meaningful to the people where He addressed this issue.”

Even before Harris called for a six-week truce, critics of Biden’s handling of the war inside and outside the Biden administration saw Harris as wanting to take a tougher stance on the fighting in Gaza, but unable to. The Democrat who helped elect Biden in 2020 spoke to NBC News.

The person said Harris was trying hard to cast himself as a more empathetic voice in his appeal to Muslim and Arab Americans, as well as other Democrats worried about the worsening situation after months of bombings.

“His hands are tied,” the person said. “People don’t attack him because they know it’s not his policy. This is Biden’s war. This is Biden’s failure.”

“I think he would have called for a truce a long time ago,” the person said.



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