Mar 8, 2024 - World

Biden on hot mic: Told Bibi we needed "come to Jesus" meeting on Gaza

Biden and Netanyahu seated with flags behind them

Biden with Netanyahu during a visit to Israel in October. Photo: GPO handout/Anadolu via Getty

President Biden was caught on a hot mic after his State of the Union address telling a Democratic senator he'd told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu they were going to have a "a come to Jesus meeting" about the situation in Gaza.

Why it matters: Biden is under pressure from members of his own party to push Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza and do more to allow the flow of aid. In the exchange, Biden seemed to be boasting of having taken a tough line with Netanyahu on that issue.

Zoom in: While Biden was making the rounds following his speech, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) told him he'd recently visited Israel and asked the president to keep pushing for humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

  • Huddled with Bennet, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Biden replied: "I told Bibi, and don't repeat this, I said, 'you and I are going to have a come to Jesus meeting'" — a colloquialism for a difficult intervention intended to produce a breakthrough.
  • He then realized he was being recorded and said, "I'm on a hot mic here. Good. That's good."

In his speech, Biden emphasized the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and recognized that more than 30,000 Palestinians had been killed.

  • Biden criticized the Netanyahu government for not treating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as a priority and stressed Israel must not use aid as a political bargaining chip.
  • That continues a shift in the administration's rhetoric on the war over the last few weeks as Democratic criticism of Biden's backing of Israel has piled up.
  • The message behind closed doors has been harsher, including during Israeli minister Benny Gantz's White House visit earlier this week.
  • Biden also expressed strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, for the first time since the Oct. 7 attacks, said any peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be conditioned on Israel agreeing to that principle.

The other side: A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu and his aides were "relatively satisfied" with Biden's speech and stressed Biden's announcement that a "temporary pier" would be established off the coast of Gaza to allow for increased aid was coordinated with Israel.

  • "It was better than Kamala," the senior Israeli official told me, referring to the vice president's strong criticism of Israel's war effort in her speech in Selma, Alabama last Sunday.
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