WASHINGTON – According to copies of White House correspondence obtained exclusively by NBC News, President Joe Biden delivers different messages about the Middle East war to pro-Palestinian Americans and pro-Israel Americans.
The first letter highlights Biden’s commitment to Israel in the fight against the “pure evil”, terrorism. The second letter focuses on efforts by the administration to protect Gaza’s civilians.
It is unusual for the White House to produce two versions of the same letter that are so different in emphasis. They reflect the tightrope Biden must walk as pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian factions of his coalition fight over the war.
The White House Office of Presidential Correspondence generated the form response and signed it with Biden’s signature. It invokes the Holocaust to relate to the terrorist attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, pledges continued support for Israel and promises that hostage return will be prioritized.
Biden writes that the Israeli people “lived through a moment filled with pure evil,” which “resurfaced horrifying memories” and was the “deadliest” day for Jews “since the Holocaust.”
He continues, “The United States is with Israel.” We will continue to make sure that Israel has the resources it needs to defend against terrorism, in accordance with humanitarian international law. I will use all my resources to free the hostages of Hamas, including American citizens.
The mirror-image reply to pro-Palestinian letters does not mention evil, the Holocaust, or American support for Israel. It focuses instead on giving aid to Palestinians.
Biden writes pro-Palestinian journalists: “We must condemn terrorism whenever we see it.” “But Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinians. It doesn’t stand up for the dignity and rights of Palestinians. “We mourn the innocent Palestinians killed.
He continues to say that his administration is “working closely with partners” to “ensure that life-saving aid — including food, water, medicine, and other essentials can reach innocent Palestinians urgently in Gaza”, and that the “United States stands unambiguously for the protection civilians during conflicts.”
The letters share some common sentiments. Biden promises to protect civilians, to secure humanitarian aid for “innocent Palestinians”, to work towards a two-state resolution, and to call Hamas an organization of terrorists.
Anyone who reads these different viewpoints in the mail will see that they need two separate replies,” said an official of the White House who spoke under the condition of anonymity about internal deliberations. This is a sensitive and nuanced issue. We can better respond to the concerns and sensibilities expressed in these letters by providing unique responses.
The official stated that Biden had seen “representative examples” of incoming letters. He added that the multiple response approach is “standard for many complex issues, and it’s designed to be respectful and informative to the author.”
Biden is trying to reach both sides of the schism within his party, which has been made worse by the war. He cannot afford to anger Democratic voters with less than a calendar year until he is up for re-election.
A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey released by this week shows 56% of Democrats now believe Israel’s response to terrorist attacks has been “too excessive.” This is up from 35% just four days after the attack, when Israel hadn’t yet launched its ground invasion in Gaza. Some Democrats in Michigan, an important swing state that has large Arab-Americans and Muslim communities, are threatening not to vote for Biden because of his support for Israel. Pro-Palestinian protesters clashed this week with Capitol Police after they blocked access to the Democratic National Committee. This was a stark reminder about the stakes of the party.
Biden has little room for maneuvering within his own party at this time, and he risks alienating those who have strong views on the Middle East war if he does not acknowledge their concerns.
The White House often sends one letter to all those who ask for the president’s opinion or want to share their views.
One person who worked at the White House’s correspondence office during a previous administration said that the White House would sometimes draft different versions of letters to emphasize the president’s agreement with one party or downplay his disagreement with the opposing side.
This person stated that “every office deliberates over it”, noting the fact that the possibility of versions being made public usually discourages wide variations.
The person replied, “It is more an art form and gut instinct than science.” “We erred on the side of saying less so that we could say the same thing to all.”
Biden knows that if he reads these two letters, he will not be accused of saying exactly the same thing to everybody.
The structures are so carefully crafted that even Biden’s call to combat hatred, a resounding of his remarks from an Oval Office speech last month, is inverse.
“Here in home, I’ve directed my team to identify and prevent domestic threats that may emerge against Jewish or Muslim or Arab communities, as well as any other community,” he writes supporters of Israel’s actions. “Hatred has no place in our world. Not against Jews. Not against Muslims. “Not against anyone.”
In his letter to pro Palestinian Americans, he wrote: “I have instructed my team to identify and prevent any threats against Muslim, Arabs, Palestinians, Jews, or other communities. Hatred has no place in America. Not against Muslims. Not against Arabs. Not against Arabs. Not against Jews. “Not against anyone.”
Biden also flips the antisemitism into Islamophobia in both versions. He emphasizes the latter in his letter to the pro Palestinian correspondents.
In the pro-Israeli letter, Biden does not include Palestinians on the list of those he wants to protect against hatred.
The letter that NBC News reviewed was dated November 1. The pro-Palestinian message was dated November 8.
Even the final lines are written in a way that appeals to both sides.
Biden wrote to the pro Palestinian set: “And we will hold in our heart all the families throughout our country who are mourning the death of a loved-one–a part of their soul –to this tragedy.”
He writes: “And we will reject terrorism and it’s indiscriminate bad, just like we always have,” to people who write letters supporting Israel.