Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib pressed President Biden during an encounter on the tarmac of the Detroit airport Tuesday to confront Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more strongly about Israel’s bombing of Gaza, an aide to the Michigan Democrat said.
And Biden appears to have been receptive to the message as he took a tougher approach with Netanyahu on Wednesday, calling for a de-escalation “on the path to a cease-fire,” according to a White House readout of the call.
“Congresswoman Tlaib reiterated that the status quo is enabling more killing, that the current U.S. approach of unconditional support for the Israeli government is not working, and that the White House must do far more to protect Palestinian lives, dignity, and human rights,” the aide told NPR in an interview Tuesday evening.
Tlaib told the president that by saying Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks by Hamas militants, the administration is giving free rein for Nethanyahu to continue to kill Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the aide said.
“Palestinian human rights are not a bargaining chip and must be protected, not negotiated. The U.S. cannot continue to give the right-wing Netanyahu government billions each year to commit crimes against Palestinians. Atrocities like bombing schools cannot be tolerated, much less conducted with U.S.-supplied weapons,” the aide told NPR.
Tlaib and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are putting together a resolution to block the Biden administration from selling Israel $732 million in arms — a deal that has been criticized by Democrats for going through despite the lack of a cease-fire.
Tlaib spoke to Biden for about eight minutes at the airport Tuesday when he arrived Tuesday for a visit to a Ford automotive plant in Dearborn where he touted the need for electric vehicles.
Biden has spoken to Netanyahu four times since the conflict began more than a week ago and he reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and “expressed his support for a cease-fire,” according to readouts of the conversations from the White House.
The president, after speaking to Tlaib, took his demands a step further on Wednesday.
The White House said Biden spoke again to Netanyahu and “conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire.”
Asked what prompted the change in Biden’s stance, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre referred to the readout of the call.
“I’m going to let the readout play out for itself. The president, as you all know, has said that he wants to make sure that we end the violence – right? – the suffering that we are seeing with the Palestinian and the Israeli people. But the way that we’re going to continue to approach this is to have intense, quiet, diplomatic conversations,” she said during a briefing aboard Air Force One as Biden flew to Rhode Island to address Coast Guard Academy graduates.
Pressed why Biden didn’t pursue an immediate cease-fire, Jean-Pierre reiterated he “wants to be on a path to a cease-fire.”
Shortly after Biden made the request, the Israeli leader blew it off.
“I am determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved: to bring the quiet and security back to you, the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement following the conversation with Biden.