News Brief: Axios, NYT Help White House Obscure Their Role in Rafah Invasion

Citations Needed | May 8, 2024 | Transcript

Citations Needed
19 min readMay 8, 2024
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)


Nima: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow Citations Needed on Twitter @citationspod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of our work through All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated, as we are 100% listener funded. We do these News Briefs in between our regularly scheduled full length episodes of citations. Needed to talk about some breaking news. And also, we come to you while officially still on break for Adam’s parental leave. Congratulations again, Adam, Sarah, Petey and Norah, but Adam, good to have you back, my friend. Thanks for taking a little, little break from the young ones again to talk about Gaza a bit more. Yes, of course, there’s been a lot of focus lately on campus protests and the violent reactions to them, the praise for those protests actually coming out of Palestine itself, showing that these things are actually important and not merely symbolic. But we really wanted to talk today, Adam, about the White House, PR management that is going on, especially as laundered through certain very highly placed reporters, because right now, as Israel begins to devastate Rafah and the millions of people who are just trying to survive there after six plus months of ongoing what we’re seeing in our media Adam, we really wanted to discuss, especially as it has to do with claiming certain humanitarian decisions, or as we hear all the time how sternly Biden talks to Netanyahu, yet somehow still always cuts that check.

Adam: Yeah, so the Biden White House, the State Department, has absolutely zero incentive or interest in meaningfully stopping this so called War, which is to say they accept the premise that Hamas must be quote, unquote eliminated, which can really only happen with hundreds of 1000s of casualties, potentially hundreds of 1000s of deaths. Eventually, Israel is very clear that they plan on doing this for years, militarily occupying for years, counter insurgency. You know, obviously the Palestinians, whatever their political persuasion, are just going to roll over and be occupied. And the White House is letting them do it, and they support it. That’s the end of it. So they oppose the overt ethnic cleansing, they’ve blocked, along with France and Egypt, blocked efforts to push Palestinians into Egypt, which was Netanyahu’s, clear as day, his first option, as reported on by the Washington Post. But that’s really kind of the only limit they’ve put on it. They don’t want it to quote-unquote, “spill over,” but they pretty much are going to let Israel do whatever they want within Gaza, which is really what they want to do more than anything, because if they can’t push them into Egypt, they’re happy to kind of starve them to death and subjugate and to kind of humiliate over the next few years. And this is the reality. This is sort of obviously not going to change. It’s been seven months. Biden is hardened in this position. It’s not going to budge. But of course, it’s politically very messy for the White House, and essentially, they want to win an election in 2024.

Nima: It doesn’t seem like it, but sure.

Adam: As I laid out in a piece in March I wrote for my Substack, it’s entitled “For the Biden Campaign, Gaza Is a PR Annoyance to Manage, Not a Genocide to End.” And this has become more urgent in recent days, as the Biden White House has kept saying over and over again that the invasion of Rafah was a red line, a red line. They love to use this line. Turns out it’s not a red line. Turns out that was just posturing and more PR, supposedly, we’re trying to get some ceasefire through, and we’ll talk about this later. But of course, they changed the definition of ceasefire to mean what Israel means, which is to say a temporary pause in fighting for hostage exchanges. But Israel absolutely 100% and to their credit, they’re at least honest about it, will continue the invasion and occupation of, or the invasion of Rafah and the continued military occupation of Gaza in perpetuity. So Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups wanted a ceasefire to be what a ceasefire has been traditionally, which is to say, the end of, the secession of hostilities within Gaza itself, the bombing of Gaza and obviously any long-term political solution can be discussed after the fact. That is what Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, 18 different UN–that’s what they all mean.

Nima: Yes, release of hostages, removal of Israeli troops, end of bombing. Yeah.

Adam: Right, the release of Israeli hostages, the release of Palestinian hostages. And of course, going back to whatever the status quo was, such as it was, as unjust as it was, it was better than deliberate, sort of more overt genocide and ethnic cleansing. Israel’s refused to agree to this. They are pot committed, at least so far. And so this presents a PR problem for the White House, because they have to look liberal and progressive, at least to some extent, but they’re not going to do anything to change the status quo. And so I listed a few examples.

One of the first ones they did is they changed the definition of ceasefire. Typically, they made a distinction. They first off, when the war, quote-unquote, “war” first started, they wouldn’t even use the word ceasefire. The State Department issued a memorandum saying you could not use that word, anything that even alluded to that word. But then later, after they realized, especially right on the eve of the Michigan primary back in March, they then switched to saying they want a ceasefire. But they brilliantly, just redefined what the term meant. So they abandoned its historic usage, its usage again by every human rights and medical agency, and 95% of countries on Earth that voted for a ceasefire several different times, right? Only two or three of which voted no, right? There was some abstain, but the vast, vast majority of the world. So then they redefine ceasefire to just replace temporary pause, which is to say a couple weeks changing hostages. And then Israel reserves the right to quote-unquote “eliminate Hamas,” which is to say kill hundreds of thousands of people. That’s what that will entail. Every neutral observer knows that. And then to the extent to which they can, quote-unquote, “eliminate Hamas,” I guess that all the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of orphans they make are just going to kind of roll over and become yeomen fishermen and NGO employees, complying NGO employees.

So the first thing that is they changed the definition of ceasefire, which you’ve seen play out recently. Hamas called Israel’s bluff, accepted the terms of the ceasefire, which still allowed Israel to invade Rafah by the way, I think as a kind of way of buying them time, or sort of putting the onus on them. And Israel then subsequently rejected that. The second thing they’ve done, which we’ve discussed on this podcast before, but it’s worth reiterating, because they were doing it again, which is the alleged increased tensions, where the Biden White House and the State Department, and even sometimes the Defense Department, leaks countless stories about how they are actually changing things from the inside and expressing anger and frustration.

Nima: Oh, indeed. Just today, actually, we’re recording this Monday, May 6, 2024, there are reports again today that President Biden spoke on the phone with Netanyahu and told him that the US opposes a major ground operation in Rafah that doesn’t consider how to protect the civilian population in the city.

Adam: It’s really important to understand what the qualifications that they always say, We oppose this that doesn’t protect civilians, right? Because that can mean anything, that’s a weasel term that’s meant to sort of give them an out, because–

Nima: If Israel’s like, well, We’re trying to protect civilians, then they’re like, Okay, cool.

Adam: Yeah, then that’s good enough, right? Yeah, it’s utterly meaningless. So this alleged frustration, this alleged anger, has manifested, has been reported on October 11, October 15, October 29, October 31, November, 3, November, 10, November, 29, December 7, December 11, December 12, December 18, December 23, December 31, January 7, January 9, January 11, January 19, January 26, February 4, February 7, February 29.

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: March 4, and this was the count as of March 5. So it’s been way more since then.

Nima: All stern, stern phone calls, Adam.

Adam: Stern talking-tos. Yeah. So after every single one of these reports, a lot of them PR dumping grounds like Politico and Axios and friendly outlets like NBC News, New York Times, nothing changes, right? So nothing materially changes. The White House has never actually imposed any sanctions or even modest restrictions on Israel until a couple days ago. They allegedly, according to a scoop by Barak Ravid, a former IDF reservist who’s the sort of Israeli and American reporter for Axios, who’s probably the main conduit for this kind of liberal PR that the White House and State Department run. He always has these scoops. He’s done about a dozen of these, you know, ‘Increased tensions between Netanyahu and Biden’ pieces. He says, quote, this is from May 5 of 2024, quote: “U.S. put a hold on an ammunition shipment to Israel.” So this is supposed to sort of signal Biden’s disapproval of the Rafah invasion, right? Now, the details of this are vague. It’s just a hold. They will almost certainly end up doing it anyway. Biden is, they’ve been running this playbook from the beginning, which is really just like I said in my headline. It’s reverse-engineering PR headlines to look like there’s some daylight between Israel and the US, or to kind of wash their hands of the carnage they’re seeing without really materially using leverage, because the US, and make no mistake, and this is, I think, the main key point here, and not really one most people in the know really dispute, if they wanted to, the US could end this tomorrow. Israel’s military war machine cannot function without replenished supplies, munitions, intelligence support, and US aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean that fend off aggression from Hezbollah and from Yemen, we wouldn’t last more than a week, if that. So Biden can stop the invasion of Rafah if he wants to, but he doesn’t, because he supports whatever nebulous military aims they may have, or what is the continued ethnic cleansing, or the very least collective punishment of Gaza.

Nima: Right. Or that the political calculus of allowing this to continue is more in his favor than ending it immediately.

Adam: Yeah. And so everyone involved is pot committed, because at this point, if they have a ceasefire, a real one, a sort of meaningful one, and and leave Hamas, or what you know, sort of of what’s left of Gaza in charge, to some extent, which is, again, what everybody knows invariably will happen. And I think this is, I think this point sort of can’t be stressed enough, which is that everybody knows this is how this is going to end. We’ve been saying this for months, some Hamas, or some version of Hamas, which is to say some military opposition, will remain in Gaza no matter what happens, because, short of ethnic cleansing, short of full-blown ethnic cleansing. And Blinken knows this, and we know this because this was reported on–

Nima: Resistance groups exist when there’s something to resist.

Adam: Right. I mean, January 17 of this year, court stenographer Andrea Mitchell of NBC News reported, quote: “Blinken told Netanyahu that ultimately there is no military solution to Hamas, according to the officials, and that the Israeli leader needs to recognize that or history will repeat itself and violence will continue.” Unquote. So if there’s no military solution to Hamas, then what the fuck is the US supporting the military solution for Hamas for for another four months, five months? And this is something that everybody knows, which is why the assumption is that this is not about quote-unquote, “eliminating Hamas.” It’s something a little more sinister than that, which is a combination of militarily reoccupying it and trying to put in a vichy, kind of PA-like government, and having settlements like they have in the West Bank, and obviously the contexts are different. There’s less kind of historical significance to Gaza. But nonetheless, the effort to push Gazans into Jordan and Egypt remains, I think, the sort of primary motivation behind a lot of this.

Nima: I mean, it also entrenches not only occupation, but annexation. It entrenches Israeli military dominance even more so over the entirety of Historic Palestine, and it kind of finally puts a nail in the already very old coffin of a supposed two-state solution.

Adam: Yeah, and so what does it mean to sort of hold ammunition, right? It’s literally just for headlines, because these headlines were blared everywhere, MSNBC, CNN, again, to give the impression that Biden is not signing off on this, but they are signing off on this because they continue to send billions of dollars and lobbying Congress to send billions of dollars to Israel, which they just did, to the 26 billion more dollars to Israel to continue its military assault and presumably yearslong occupation of Gaza. And so, on the one hand, they continue arming them. They veto resolutions in the UN calling for something as generic and benign as a Palestinian state, right? Not even, which can sort of mean whatever you want it to mean, because when liberal politicians in the US, they support a Palestinian state, what they mean is not anything you and I would recognize as a state, something with, no, they can’t make bilateral, They have exist under a Saudi-US security–

Nima: Exactly.

Adam: Architecture, Israeli architecture.

Nima: Totally demilitarized, like, can’t have their own control of borders or trade or–

Adam: Yeah, they get a flag, you know, yeah, they get, maybe you get a soccer team, if they’re lucky.

Nima: They’re like, probably not an airport.

Adam: Yeah, no, they bombed that back in the ’90s. So yeah, this is kind of where we’re at here. And the Biden White House is really just, again, they’ve kind of washed their hands of Rafah, and they’re not willing to stop it because they support it, and they just don’t want the bad PR. And so there’s been two ways they’ve done that. They’ve done this kind of fake holding, the sort of withholding of ammunition, which is a joke, and it’s not really going to matter, and I’m sure it won’t materially affect anything. It’s purely token, and they’ve laundered it through one of their court stenographers at Axios, Barak Ravid, who, incidentally, just won the White House Correspondents award, along with Peter Baker, known hack of the show.

Joe Biden with Barak Ravid after Ravid’s White House Correspondents award win. (via CSPAN)

Nima: [Laughs] Yes.

Adam: For their inside information about what’s the doings of the White House in Israel. It’s like, yeah, that’s because he just publishes whatever they want to say without critical–

Nima: They call him up and they’re like, Do this. He’s like, Okay. [Laughs]

Adam: Yeah, that’s how you win White House Correspondents–

Nima: Scoop. Yeah. I mean, so for instance, earlier today again, Monday, May 6, 2024, when we’re recording this, Axios had a headline: “Israel’s military calls on Palestinian civilians to evacuate parts of Rafah.” This is bylined by Rebecca Falconer and Barack Ravid at Axios. And it begins like this, demonstrating the kind of full scope of not only the talking points, but then how little things materially change. The article begins like this, quote, “Israel on Monday started to evacuate Palestinian civilians from the eastern parts of Rafah, close to the Israel border ahead of a possible ground invasion, the IDF said.” “Why it matters,” Axios explains. Quote:

The Biden administration has expressed deep concern about the possibility of an Israeli military invasion in the southern Gaza city, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week that “a major operation” in Rafah will harm U.S.-Israeli relations.

Axios continues. Quote, “Israel Defense Forces on Monday evening local time said Israel started attacking Hamas targets in the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah.” End quote. So the more deep concern is expressed, Adam, the less things change, and the deeper Israel invades Gaza and continues to bomb and murder people. No amount of tsk-tsking by the State Department of the White House really seems to matter all that much.

Adam: Yeah, and another way the Biden White House covers their ass while still supporting this is they always act like they have these huge humanitarian breakthroughs, right? So they simultaneously tell the press with glaring, blazing headlines how they’re supporting humanitarian aid distribution to Gaza while funding and arming the blockade that’s preventing people from getting life-sustaining healthcare, medicine, fuel, food. And I genuinely asked this, because somebody, I said, Well, do they deliver the bombs in the humanitarian aid on the same plane, or those separate planes? Because actually, it’s military delivering the aid. So it’s possible that they’re, they’re the same, at least the same fleet, right? I don’t know.

Nima: Right. Just like crates marked A and B.

Adam: And this double game is, of course, total horseshit. And this reached its kind of low point back in March when they announced they were going to build this pier, this humanitarian pier, which, again, is getting around a blockade that the US themselves, arms and supports.

Nima: Right. The US could literally just, like, sail ships directly to Gaza.

Adam: And both Oxfam and the former USAID director of the West Bank, David Harden, severely criticized this. They said it was a trivial PR stunt, that this sort of didn’t make any sense. They said they’ve never heard of a situation where a country simultaneously blockades and circumvents their own blockade at the same time. And this is something that when other countries announced, that it’s routinely dismissed as absurd. So when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 the Russian government announced by their state news agency that they were, quote, “providing nearly 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.” Now, this didn’t go anywhere else but the state media of Russia, because nobody would sort of blare that headline, because obviously it’s absurd. They, you know, they’re providing aid to the place they just faded. I mean, it’s, it sort of doesn’t mean anything, or it’s inherently cynical.

But the US does this all the time. They did it with Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Now they’re doing it with Palestine, where they were helping bomb, pointing out targets, providing intel, military support. And then they say, Oh, we’re actually we’re sending in aid. And this is something that, they do it for the headlines. And so they got the headlines. CNN breathlessly reported, “Biden announces U.S. plan to airdrop aid to Gaza.” BBC, quote, “Biden is expected to announce the U,S. will airdrop humanitarian aid and supplies into Gaza,” unquote. And people mostly kind of buy this, because people just read headlines, and this is really what the White House has done from the beginning, and what they continue to do. They start with the headline or the kind of cable news chyron or the headline, and they work backwards from there.

Nima: Right. What’s the least we actually need to do to get that headline.

Adam: Yeah, even if it sort of doesn’t make any sense. And by the way, several people have died being hit by these airdrops. Airdrops are horrible ways of delivering aid. Aside from being deeply inefficient, they land on people. They land on homes and crush people and kill people. They’ve killed dozens of people. And so again, this could end tomorrow, if the US forced Israel to end it, but they’re not, and this is kind of the game they’re playing. And so the US, again, did this today, May 6. They said that they convinced Israel to open the humanitarian aid corridor before their invasion. So there’s sort of this token humanitarian thing we’re supposed to get. Kindness, right? But it’s like this cheesy used card, like negotiation tactic, where you sort of tack on something that you were going to do anyway, or something that’s trivial. And so they can come back and say, Look, we got to win.

But this whole thing is absurd, because, again, as Bruce Riedel at the Brookings Institute and several others have pointed out from the beginning, they can end this whenever they want. So if they really didn’t like the rap invasion, if this was really a red line, they would have ended support, made the phone call, the phone call that Biden made in 2021. Obviously, context is different, but the point is, the leverage is still there. The sort of dispositive leverage remains, and the fundamental relationship hasn’t changed. Again, if they didn’t need it, we wouldn’t have to run to Congress to get $26 billion every five minutes.

Nima: [Laughs] Totally.

Adam: And so this is the game they’re playing before the carnage of Rafah unfolds, and they’re kind of hoping they can kind of wash their hands of it, or act like there’s some, and this is what we’re doing from the beginning, is the US has always presented as this kind of humanitarian third party, neutral observer, handwringing, witnessing suffering, we can’t really do much about it, rather than an active participant in the country that is the major patron of a much, much smaller, fundamentally poor country that doesn’t really have the resources to carry out this kind of of bombing and siege and blockade beyond, you know, a week or two without support from the global superpower.

Nima: Right, which has now been going on for seven months.

Adam: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what else to, you know, we talk about it a lot, but it’s still going on. And I think we all hoped and expected it to end by now, but it hasn’t.

Nima: Right. And so I think as we get deeper and deeper into 2024, we’re going to see even more of these cynical moves by the White House and the State Department, especially as the election draws closer. I mean, not to, you know, get horserace-y about it, because, you know, we don’t really do that here, but the Biden administration, is deciding to act a certain way, right, Adam. They’re deciding to do this at this point. They’re not seeing that putting an end to active genocide is actually going to work in their favor, apparently, like that’s the calculus they’ve made, which is why that is not a priority politically for them, which is why there’s kind of nominal handwringing.

Adam: Well, it does seem like they’re phoning it in. It seems like Biden’s heart’s not in it. It seems like people around him are kind of trying to drag his corpse over the finish line.

Nima: His heart didn’t even seem like it was into condemning student protesters. [Laughs] You know what I mean, like, even though he was saying dumb shit that, like, could have been written by like, you know, right conservative talking points AI.

Adam: Well, you gotta think what about Eric Adams said. He’s fundamentally a cop, and every cop gets all their news information from Newsmax and LibsofTiktok. He’s legitimately, like, right-wing pilled because he’s a cop.

But what I think is notable is that, look, Biden, obviously, they’ve totally given up on having any support with youth, they’ll try some more, like half-assed student-loan bribery things, but they’ve given up on any kind of youth, you know, youth vote in terms of, like, momentum or canvassing or being evangelical. They’ve given up on, I think, obviously Arab and Muslim, that’s they’ve tried to, like, do the reach out, where they kind of buy off leaders and co-opt, like they did with a lot of Black Lives Matter stuff. But that didn’t work. They all told them to go fuck themselves, because it’s so egregious, there’s kind of zero credibility. They can’t even try to find their typical kind of native informant nonprofit-industrial complex, like, they all told them to fuck off. They obviously lost a lot of the Black vote.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: They think, they think they can pick it up, I guess, through, like Panera Bread whites.

Nima: The Young Democrats groups are also turning on them.

Adam: What’s interesting as well is that they’re losing some normie institutions, so they had, there were violent campus crackdowns, and Biden’s comments on that were condemned by the College Democrats, which is an offshoot of the DNC. It’s kind of like where proto-Pete Buttigiegers go. Like, it’s not, this is not a radical left wing. This is like strivers, people who all want to run for Congress, you know, who all went to nice Ivy League schools, like these are not at all radical people. Uh, Center for American Progress, which has been in sort of–

Nima: It’s the staging ground for, you know, administration cabinet members.

Adam: Yeah, a real deal, kind of, you know, stayed in DoD, you know, for a while they were funded by the UAE, very pro-war, very pro-Hillary, came out and has been strongly condemning the White House, the pod Johns of the Pod Saves guys. Those guys have even been very critical. So they’re losing these like normie center. People who are looking at this going, I don’t get it. I don’t know what we’re doing here. Obviously, this is not, this looks bad. And also a letter was sent from 100 major Biden donors, many of them billionaires, who were like, You need to stop this support, because it’s going to cost you 2024. This was a month ago. This was on, this was on April 5, I think. So, this is not like a fringe left-wing thing, but it’s clear Biden, for whatever reason, probably he’s just a glib racist, to be quite honest. And he’s, you know, bought, drank the Kool Aid of colonial ideology, that he’s just going to go down with the ship. But the guys around him are trying to manage perceptions, because that’s not going to change, right? The sort of commitment is not going to change. And the best they could come up with is getting Israel to do some, Oh, okay, I guess we’ll open this corridor. It’s like, is the corridor important? How? How long is it open for? What does that mean? While the carnage just continues, because it’s not going to change unless they’re absolutely forced to change, and so far they’ve, there’s no appearance they’re going to do that.

Nima: But you know, the White House Correspondents Dinner is handing out awards to Peter Baker and Barak Ravid.

Adam: Yeah, yeah. It’s tough getting those scoops, buddy. It’s tough sitting by the phone, waiting for the White House Chief of Staff to call you.

Nima: It’s hard work. Well, that will do it for this Citations Needed News Brief. Thank you all for listening. Thanks for continuing to support the show. We will be back next week with new full-length episodes of Citations Needed. So stay tuned. Of course until then, you can follow us on Twitter @citationspod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through We are 100% listener funded so if you are considering becoming a supporter of the show, we encourage you to do so. It really does help us out. But that will do it. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed’s Senior Producer Florence Barrau-Adams. Producer is Julianne Tveten. Production Assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Mahnoor Imran. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.



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