Former President Barack Obama, who usually refrains from commenting on political hot button issues, felt the need to speak out on the developments in the Hamas-Israel war.
Obama tried to look at both sides, on Saturday saying that, while on one hand, Hamas’s October 7 brutal slaying of Israelis was “horrific” and unjustifiable, on the other hand it “also is true that the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”
Earlier Obama had warned that an Israeli ground operation in Gaza could “backfire,” arguing that while Israel had the right to defend itself, any civilian death would increase support for extremism and harm the country’s long-term security. The spate of pro-Palestinian demonstrations taking place in major cities around the globe have proved him right and as Israel ramps up the pressure on Gaza with increased air strikes, world leaders are calling on Netanyahu to respect the international conventions for the safety of civilians.
President Joe Biden is among those who call for a ceasefire, urging Netanyahu to engage in dialogue with the Palestinian factions in order to restore calm and prevent further escalation. Biden has repeatedly warned Netanyahu about the needless death of civilians in Gaza; at the latest count there have been almost 10,000, about half of whom are children.
Many have expressed consternation at the IDF’s attacks on ambulances and hospitals, but Netanyahu claims they are shielding terrorists. In the meantime, pro-Palestinian support and criticism against Israel both grow apace.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “utterly appalling” violence and called for an immediate end to the “senseless cycle of bloodshed”. He also urged the parties to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians, especially children.
French President Emmanuel Macron stated, “The fight must be without mercy, but not without rules, because we are democracies that are fighting against terrorists, democracies that respect the laws of war, democracies that do not target civilians, in Gaza or elsewhere.”
In his latest intervention, Barack Obama argued for all sides of the debate over Israel and Palestine to acknowledge the “complexity” of the conflict and all parties’ valid grievances.
“There is a history of the Jewish people that may be dismissed unless your grandparents or your great grandparents or your uncle or your aunt tell you stories about the madness of antisemitism,” Obama said. “And what is true is that there are people right now who are dying who have nothing to do with what Hamas did.”
The comments came in an interview with Pod Save America, a podcast hosted by several of Obama’s former White House aides, an excerpt of which was published Saturday. They are the latest indication of discomfort among current and former US officials with the mounting death toll from Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
At the same time Obama cautioned against adopting what he called “TikTok activism,” one-sided narratives online that favor slogans over nuance.
“The problem with the social media and trying to TikTok activism — and trying to debate this on that — is you can’t speak the truth,” Obama said. “You can pretend to speak the truth. You can speak one side of the truth, and in some cases, you can try to maintain your moral innocence. But that won’t solve the problem.”
If you want to solve the problem, Obama continued, “then you have to take in the whole truth and you then have to admit nobody’s hands are clean — that all of us are complicit to some degree.”
In the interview published Saturday, Obama reflected on his time in office considering this latest flare-up in the Middle East and asked himself if there was something more he could have done during his time in office, to bring a peaceful resolution and prevent this latest wave of violence and bloodshed.
“I look at this and I think back, ‘What could I have done during my presidency to move this forward?’ As hard as I tried — I’ve got the scars to prove it — but there’s a part of me that’s still saying, ‘Well, was there something else I could have done?’ That’s the conversation we should be having, not just looking backwards, but looking forward.”