Biden vows American support for Israel, Ukraine in Oval Office address

The president's speech came as Israel prepared to invade Gaza, Ukraine continued to probe Russian defenses and Republicans struggled to elect a House speaker.

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One day after he visited Israel, which is in the midst of grieving and responding to the horrific Oct. 7 attack by the militant group Hamas, President Biden delivered a rare Oval Office address, in which he said “American leadership” was necessary to keep freedom alive in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

The speech comes as Biden prepares to ask Congress on Friday for $14 billion in aid to Israel and $60 billion to Ukraine.

Below are the key points from Thursday evening’s address.

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‘American leadership is what holds the world together’

President Biden delivers a primetime address from the Oval Office.
President Biden delivers a primetime address from the Oval Office on Thursday. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Reuters)

Biden has always expressed an old-fashioned faith in the ability of the United States to act as the peacemaker and moral arbiter of the world — an image that was damaged in good part by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Thursday evening, he tied Israel’s fight against Hamas to Ukraine’s effort to expel invading Russian forces from its sovereign lands, describing the struggles as inherently related.

“Hamas and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy,” Biden said.

The speech came as Republicans have struggled to elect a House speaker in Washington, and as pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations have broken out across the country.

“I know we have our divisions at home,” Biden said. He also urged an end to “petty, partisan, angry politics,” in a seeming reference to the ongoing House drama that could make it impossible to allocate more funding for Israel or Ukraine — not to mention the U.S. government, which faces a looming mid-November shutdown.

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‘We’re not withdrawing’

President Biden salutes upon arriving at Joint Base Andrews.
Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews on Thursday following his visit to Israel. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The counteroffensive launched by Ukraine over the summer did not result in the kind of gains many allies in the West had foreseen. Although Russian defensive lines have been breached in some places, the 700-mile front is too heavily mined and fortified to allow for a significant rout, especially since Ukraine’s military is much smaller than Russia’s.

Still, Biden made clear that even as the war enters its third year, the United States would continue to supply Ukraine with the armaments it needs to wage war. He also warned Putin that if he had designs on the Baltic nations or Poland, the United States would defend “every inch” of NATO territory. At the same time, he stressed that he had no intention of sending American forces to Ukraine.

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‘Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people’

A tattered Israeli national flag is seen in the kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel.
An Israeli national flag is seen in the kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel on Thursday. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

The militant group Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip, broke through Israeli border defenses in its Oct. 7 attack and has killed at least 1,300 people, including many women and children. It is said to have committed horrific atrocities, including rape, torture and beheadings. Yet in both the United States and across the world, some have celebrated the incursion as an oppressed people’s cry for freedom. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which some U.S. lawmakers have said were ill-timed to begin with, have sometimes devolved into displays of antisemitism and glorifications of violence.

Biden made clear Thursday that he rejected any attempt to justify the atrocities Hamas has committed, for the most part against civilians. “The terrorist group Hamas unleashed pure, unadulterated evil in the world,” he said. At the same time, he pointed out that Hamas — which calls for the complete elimination of Israel — does not represent the entirety of the Palestinian people, many of whom favor a two-state solution. Biden remains committed to that possibility as well.

“The United States remains committed to the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and to self-determination,” he said. “The actions of Hamas terrorists don’t take that right away.”

Significantly, Biden added that Tuesday’s deadly bombing of a Gaza hospital — which U.S. intelligence has determined was not the result of an Israeli airstrike, though many, in particular in the Arab world, remain unconvinced — was “not done by the Israelis.”

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