U.S. President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden answers questions at the White House on February 8, 2024.

(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Ahead of Biden State of the Union, Oxfam Says No More 'Platitudes' on Gaza

"The crisis in Gaza has become a defining issue for President Biden, and he has an obligation to act," said the head of Oxfam America.

With conditions in Gaza growing more catastrophic by the hour, U.S. President Joe Biden is facing pressure to use his State of the Union address Thursday night to announce substantive action to stop Israel's relentless bombing campaign and guarantee that food, medicine, fuel, and other aid reaches the Palestinian territory's famine-stricken population.

"The Biden administration can and must do more to save lives and prevent famine in Gaza now," Abby Maxman, president and CEO of Oxfam America, said in a statement Wednesday. "Many Americans are watching the State of the Union expecting commitments and actions from President Biden to respect its own laws, value human life, and use its leverage to put a stop to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

"There is no more time for platitudes," said Maxman. "The United States must use all of its power and act: call for a cease-fire, the release of all hostages, full access for humanitarian aid, and an embargo of lethal arms to Israel and Palestinian armed groups. The United States has a moral and legal responsibility to prevent a famine—and it is not doing everything in its power to do so. The crisis in Gaza has become a defining issue for President Biden, and he has an obligation to act."

Israel and Hamas are currently negotiating the terms of a potential temporary cease-fire, which Biden had hoped would be in place before his address on Thursday.

Biden has criticized the U.S.-armed Israeli military's "indiscriminate bombing" of the Gaza Strip and the Netanyahu government's obstruction of humanitarian assistance as children starve to death, but he has refused to take steps long supported by human rights groups and progressive lawmakers—such as attaching conditions to weapons sales that have fueled the five-month war.

The administration's persistent refusal to take substantive action—and continued reliance on private meetings with Israeli officials and mild public chiding in the face of one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in modern history—has frustrated even Biden's most stalwart allies in Congress.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), described by The Associated Press as Biden's "closest confidant in Congress," is among those adding new layers of pressure on the president. Following Israel's deadly attack on Palestinians seeking food aid last week, Coons said that U.S. military support for the Netanyahu government "becomes untenable when Israel demonstrates they are unwilling to listen to us."

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) toldThe New York Times ahead of Biden's address to a joint session of Congress that he wants "the president to use his leverage to get a cease-fire and to get the desperately needed humanitarian aid in."

"We have more leverage here than we're using," said McGovern.

"We are more than statistics in the toll of this genocide; we have names, families, and aspirations that persist despite the turmoil surrounding us."

Hours before Biden's speech, hundreds are expected to rally outside the White House to demand an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza and an arms embargo on Israel, which has used U.S.-made weapons to commit atrocities against civilians in the Palestinian enclave.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, toldSlate on Thursday that what she has "tried to explain to the White House over and over again is that this is an issue of deep moral consequence, because people really believe at the core that it is untenable for the United States to be complicit in this war."

"We are the largest funder of military aid to Israel," said Jayapal. "Eighty-three percent of the bombs that have been dropped in Gaza are U.S. bombs. And yet we're airdropping 38,000 meals into Gaza when there's 500,000 people starving because Israel won't allow humanitarian aid to go through the border. So, we could lose this election over Democrats' and the president's position on what is happening in Gaza."

"There needs to be a dramatic policy shift," Jayapal added.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) echoed that message in a statement Wednesday announcing her guest at the State of the Union address— Dr. Intimaa Salama, a dentist and master's student at St. Louis University who was born and raised in Gaza.

Dozens of Salama's family members have been killed in Israel's assault, including her grandmother and two of her brothers.

"We are more than statistics in the toll of this genocide; we have names, families, and aspirations that persist despite the turmoil surrounding us," said Salama. "My call is for a cease-fire and for a future where our children's joy and laughter overshadow the echoes of wars, ensuring that we are all treated with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves."

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