WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is delivering different messages about the war in the Middle East to pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli Americans, according to copies of official White House correspondence obtained by NBC News.
While one letter highlights Biden’s support for Israel against the “pure evil” of terrorism, the other focuses on the administration’s work to protect civilians in Gaza.
While the two letters do not contradict each other — nor Biden’s own policies — it is not common for the White House Correspondence Office to craft versions of a letter on the same topic that diverge so drastically in emphasis . Yet they reflect the political tightrope Biden is trying to walk as the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian elements of his coalition clash over the war.
The response form sent to people who support Israel, generated by the White House Presidential Correspondence Office and self-signed with Biden’s name, invokes the Holocaust in connection with the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack, promises continued support for Israel and promises to prioritize the return of the hostages.
“The people of Israel experienced a moment of pure evil” which “brought back horrible memories” and constituted the “deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust,” Biden wrote.
“The United States stands with Israel,” he continues. “We will continue to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against terrorism in accordance with international humanitarian law. I will use all resources to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas, including our fellow Americans.”
But the mirrored response to pro-Palestinian letter writers makes no mention of evil, the Holocaust, or American support for Israel. Instead, it focuses on providing aid to the Palestinians.
“We must always condemn terrorism when we witness it,” Biden wrote to pro-Palestinian correspondents. “But Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. It does not defend the dignity of Palestinians. We mourn the many innocent Palestinians who were killed.”
He goes on to explain that this is why his administration is “working closely with partners to ensure that life-saving aid, including food, water and medicine, can urgently reach the Palestinians.” innocent people in Gaza” and emphasizes that “the United States unequivocally supports the protection of civilians during conflict.
There are common sentiments in the letters, including Biden’s promises to continue protection of civilians, provide humanitarian aid to “innocent Palestinians” and work toward a two-state solution, as well as qualify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
“Anyone who reads the different views we see in the mail will see that these letters require two separate responses,” said a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “This is a complex issue that involves nuance and sensitivity. Having unique responses allows us to better address the distinct concerns and sensitivities raised in these received letters.
Biden has seen “representative samples” of incoming mail, the official said, adding that the multiple-response approach “is the standard for many complex questions and is designed to be respectful and informative to the writer.”
This shared message reflects Biden’s need to appeal to both sides of a schism within his party that has been exacerbated by the war. With less than a year until his re-election, he cannot afford to arouse further anger among Democratic voters.
A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll released this week shows that most Democrats – 56% – now think Israel’s response to the terrorist attack was “too strong.” This is up from 35% four days after the assault, when Israel had not yet launched its ground invasion of Gaza. Overall, 60% of Democrats approve of Biden’s handling of the war, according to the survey.
In Michigan, a crucial swing state with large Arab American and Muslim communities, some Democrats are threatening to withdraw their votes from Biden because of his support for Israel. And pro-Palestinian protesters clashed with Capitol Police this week after demonstrators blocked access to the Democratic National Committee, a stark reminder of the stakes for the party.
There appears to be little safe political space for Biden at present within his own party, and he runs the risk of further alienating people with passionate views on the Middle East war if he does not recognize their concerns.
On many issues, the White House sends a single form letter in response to people who write to ask questions about the president’s position or to express their own opinions on a particular topic.
Sometimes, on particularly controversial issues, the White House drafts different versions of a letter to emphasize the president’s agreement with one side or downplay his disagreement with the other side, said a person who worked in the White House’s correspondence office. a previous administration.
“Each office is deliberating on it,” this person said, noting that the possibility of the versions becoming public generally deters major divergences.
“It’s more of an art and instinct than a science,” the person said. “We have generally been wrong to say less to everyone so that we can say the same thing to everyone. »
Biden can be sure that he will not be accused of saying the same thing to everyone based on these two letters.
They are so precisely organized that even Biden’s call to combat hate, an echo of his remarks in a speech in the Oval Office last month, uses inverse structures.
“Here at home, I have asked my team to identify, prevent and disrupt domestic threats that may emerge against the Jewish, Muslim, Arab or any other community,” he wrote to supporters of the actions. ‘Israel. “There is no place for hatred in our world. Not against Jews. Not against Muslims. Not against anyone.”
But in the letter to pro-Palestinian Americans, he wrote: “I have directed my team to identify, prevent and thwart any domestic threats that may emerge against the Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, Jewish or any other communities. community. for hatred in America. Not against Muslims. Not against the Arabs. Not against the Palestinians. Not against the Jews. Not against anyone. “
Biden similarly reverses anti-Semitism and Islamophobia later in both versions, emphasizing the latter in the letter to pro-Palestinian correspondents.
And in the pro-Israel letter, Palestinians are omitted from the list of people Biden wants to protect from hatred.
The pro-Israel letter reviewed by NBC News was dated November 1. The pro-Palestinian letter was dated November 8.
Even the final lines are written very distinctly to please the opposing parties.
“And we will continue to hold in our hearts all the families in our country and around the world who are grieving the loss of a loved one – a piece of their soul – because of this tragedy,” Biden wrote to the pro-Palestinian channel .
“And we will continue to reject terrorism and its indiscriminate scourge, as we always have,” he wrote to people who wrote letters of support for Israel.