WHITE HOUSE —
The White House welcomed on Monday the limited flow of humanitarian aid and the restoration of telecommunications in Gaza as Israel continues its ground offensive on the enclave in response to the Hamas militant group’s stunning Oct. 7 attack.
It also repeated its warning to regional actors to stay out of the fight.
“Our message to any actor seeking to exploit this conflict is: don’t do it,” said John Kirby, director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. “And as you all know, we have strengthened our force posture in the region. We’re continually watching to make sure that any actor who might be tempted to jump in here knows that we will take very seriously our national security interests in the region, not to mention our obligation to protect our troops in our facilities that are going after ISIS in places like Iraq and Syria.”
But this conflict is also exploding in the court of public opinion. Hundreds of people stormed an airport in Russia’s Dagestan region over the weekend, shouting antisemitic slurs over the arrival of a flight from Tel Aviv.
Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the events on foreign interference, saying they “were inspired, including through social networks, not least from the territory of Ukraine by the agents of Western intelligence services.”
Kirby dismissed that.
“It’s classic Russian rhetoric, when something goes bad in your country: blame somebody else, blame it on outside influences. The West had nothing to do with this. This is just hate, bigotry and intimidation. Pure and simple,” he said.
“And a good leader, a decent leader will call it out for what it is the way President [Joe] Biden has called it out here in this country, instead of blaming the West for something and pushing it off to somebody else,” Kirby said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dug in on his disagreement with the U.S.’ classification of Hamas as a terror group and shifted blame elsewhere.
“The West has the biggest responsibility for the massacre in Gaza,” Erdogan said.
Iranian officials have piled on as well, with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian taking to the rostrum at the United Nations last week to outline their view. Iranians have also protested on the streets.
“It has been three weeks that we have been witness to the war crimes and genocide of the occupying Israeli regime in Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine,” Amirabdollahian said during an emergency United Nations assembly earlier this month.
“The United States and several European countries have sided with the occupying regime of Israel without observing the U.N. charter and international law,” he said.
Kirby said the White House believes there is a fine line between disagreement and discord, adding the administration is vigilant over outbreaks of antisemitism.
“We believe in the right of peaceful protest, even if it’s, you know, espousing ideas we don’t agree with,” he said. “But we don’t – nobody wants – to see peaceful protests turn violent or turn dangerous the way that this mob activity did in Dagestan yesterday. So it’s of concern and it’s something that we’ll continue to talk about with our allies and partners.”
The U.S. is also seeing such protests – many supportive of Palestinians and critical of Israel – bubbling up at major U.S. universities in recent weeks.
Spelman College, a historically Black institution in Georgia, recently held a rally that drew hundreds of attendees in support of Palestinians. Attendees carried signs with messages like “Free Palestine” and “End all U.S. aid to Israel.”
Dr. Helene Gayle pointed to her institution’s main mission when VOA asked how the school tries to frame debates like these.
“What I really hope and believe is that we are teaching young people to be critical thinkers, teaching young people to go beyond sometimes the simple messages that they’re hearing sometimes misinformation that they may be getting – and really understand in a critical, analytic way what the what the issues are so that they can take positions that are well informed,” Gayle told VOA at the White House on Monday.
”You know, on Spelman’s campus, we are having opportunities to do teach-ins and learn about the situation between Israel and Palestine and thinking about how do we look at this in as balanced a way as we possibly can,” she said. “So that’s what I really hope, is that we’re continuing to teach a generation of young people who can be critical thinkers who can look at information and think about it in balanced ways so that they can be true spokespersons, but with a base of knowledge and information that informs their opinions.”