Biden and Irish Leader Use St. Patrick’s Day Visit to Address Gaza


President Biden on Sunday used what is normally a festive St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House to acknowledge the growing international concern, including among the Irish, over the humanitarian situation of Palestinians amid Israel’s military action in Gaza.

“The taoiseach and I agree about the urgent need to increase humanitarian aid in Gaza and get the cease-fire deal,” Mr. Biden said alongside Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, or taoiseach, an outspoken critic of Israel’s war against Hamas in response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. As hundreds of Irish American leaders and government staff members applauded, Mr. Biden said that a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians was “the only path to lasting peace and security.”

The celebration in the White House, with plenty of green dye, shamrocks and Guinness, is typically a chance for Mr. Biden to break from speeches about foreign policy and threats to American democracy to celebrate his Irish American heritage. But during his trip to the United States, Mr. Varadkar made clear that he would raise his concerns over the war in the Middle East with the American president.

The prime minister in a way was speaking to a domestic audience back in Ireland, which, given its own history of resistance to British rule, is one of the more supportive European nations to Palestinians. Ireland was the first European Union nation to call for a Palestinian state and the last to permit the opening of a residential Israeli embassy.

“Mr. President, as you know, the Irish people are deeply troubled about the catastrophe that’s unfolding before our eyes in Gaza, and when I travel the world, leaders often ask me why the Irish people have such empathy for the Palestinian people,” Mr. Varadkar said. “The answer is simple: We see our history in their eyes.”

While Mr. Varadkar said that he supported the administration’s efforts to secure a deal for a temporary cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages, he also directly called out Israel’s bombing tactics. While Mr. Biden has struck a sharper tone recently with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the White House has said there are no plans to leverage military aid to Israel.

“The people of Gaza desperately need food, medicine and shelter, and most especially they need the bombs to stop,” Mr. Varadkar said. “This has to stop on both sides, the hostages brought home and humanitarian relief allowed in.”

The comments come after Mr. Varadkar said Israel had been “blinded by rage” since Hamas killed 1,200 people and seized more than 200 more on Oct. 7. He has also warned that invading Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that currently holds 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, would be a violation of international law. The war against Hamas has already led to the deaths of more than 30,000 people in Gaza, many of them women and children, according to local health authorities.

The White House has also said it does not support an Israeli military operation in Rafah without extensive plans for evacuating displaced Palestinians from the area. Neighboring Egypt has said it will not accept any of the Palestinians.

While raising concerns about the war in the Middle East and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the two leaders made time on Sunday to celebrate the history between their two nations.

Mr. Biden, never shy about leaning into his heritage, told the crowd gathered in the East Room how much he appreciated visiting the home of his Irish ancestors last year in Ballina. Those in the crowd, many wearing green and drinking pints of stout with the shape of the White House imprinted on its white foam, listened intently and often cheered at the many references to Ireland.

“The Irish are the only people who are nostalgic about the future,” Mr. Biden said, prompting laughter in the crowd. “We’re always looking for the next horizon. That’s a very American trait, as well. Just more proof that the bond between Ireland and the United States runs deep.

Both leaders paid homage to the United States’ first Irish Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Mr. Varadkar quoted the former president, and Mr. Biden singled out in the crowd Joseph P. Kennedy III, the former president’s great-nephew and the U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland, who garnered the most applause during the event.

Mr. Varadkar also directly appealed to Mr. Biden’s heart when he quoted another “courageous Irish American.”

“It’s about the promises we make to our children who deserve a chance to succeed,” Mr. Varadkar said. “The promises we make to each other. The sacred promise to work for a better future for all. Those are the words of Beau Biden.”

As the crowd applauded at the mention of Mr. Biden’s elder son, who died of brain cancer in 2015, Mr. Biden bowed his head as a tear rolled down his cheek.


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