Joe Biden's awkward ice cream moment has only put the US president under more pressure

Joe Biden's awkward ice cream moment has only put the US president under more pressure
Fecha de publicación: 
1 March 2024
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Joe Biden rarely holds a press conference.

That's why you regularly see reporters shouting questions in his direction when he pops up in public. It's often what's required to get an answer.

This week, that led to the bizarre circumstance of Biden discussing a ceasefire in Gaza while standing at the counter of an ice cream shop.

"My hope is by next Monday we'll have a ceasefire," the president said, while clutching a sugar cone topped with a scoop of mint-chip.

Biden was visiting the ice-creamery with TV host Seth Meyers, whose talk show he'd just appeared on.

When a reporter asked about a ceasefire proposal the pair had discussed on the program, it resulted in an awkward visual.

Joe Biden leans over a counter eating a vanilla icecream while surrounded by aides.

Joe Biden visited the ice cream shop with talk show host Seth Meyers.(AP: Evan Vucci)

"Never before in my life has the 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' music been louder in my head than during this moment," Meyers later told his viewers, referring to the long-running sitcom that often leans on cringe-worthy comedy.

But the public reaction to the ice cream imagery went far beyond cringe.

Considered in the context of the worsening food shortage in Gaza, and juxtaposed against pictures of desperate children begging for aid, the image intensified anger towards a president who remains supportive of Israel even while bemoaning its "over the top" military campaign.

Famine looms

When questioned about Israel, Biden and his spokespeople often point to his successful efforts to get aid to suffering Palestinians.

In a recent press conference that produced another awkward moment – Biden seemingly confusing the leaders of Mexico and Egypt – the president said:

"Initially, the president of [Egypt], El-Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate.

"I talked to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] to open the gate on the Israeli side. I've been pushing really hard, really hard to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza."

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Joe Biden smiles while standing at a podium in front of US flags.

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But, in recent weeks, the flow of aid into Gaza has slowed right down. Aid groups say it's become increasingly difficult to work with the Israeli military to get aid in.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Israel has been deliberately obstructing food shipments in defiance of an International Court of Justice order.

UN humanitarian workers this week warned that more than 500,000 Gazans are now facing "catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation".

Palestinian children carry pots as they queue to receive food on a damp street.

Palestinian children have carried pots as they queued to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen, amid shortages in food supplies in Gaza.(Reuters: Saleh Salem)

And the UN's special rapporteur on the right to food accused Israel of intentionally starving Palestinians (an assessment previously made by rights groups such as HRW).

Israel denies it's deliberately blocking aid. It says the slowdown is the fault of the UN and aid agencies, and it's doing "all it can to care for civilians" while still fighting Hamas.

The desperate search for food in Gaza

In Gaza, Maazize is feeding her children ground up animal food and tea made from sticks and leaves, just so they have something in their starving stomachs.

A young girl wearing a pink jumper holds a piece of bread made from animal feed.

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But the situation looks to be deteriorating by the day, especially in Gaza's north.

And today, Gazan health officials say more than 100 people have been killed – and hundreds more injured – after Israeli troops opened fire on people waiting for aid near Gaza City.

Israel has blamed a stampede for many of the deaths and injuries, and says its tanks only fired warning shots to stop people getting trampled.

Either way, it points to an incredibly miserable situation in the occupied enclave right now.

The power of pictures

As Biden may have reflected after his moment with an ice cream went viral, images can carry extraordinary power.

Another American president proved as much back in 1982, when he responded to a very different wartime picture.

Ronald Reagan was devastated after seeing a photo of a baby, who was reportedly burned and maimed by an Israeli bomb dropped in Lebanon.

Ronald Reagan takes a question during a press conference in the White House in 1988.

Ronald Reagan reportedly saw the photograph of the badly burned baby in an edition of The Washington Post.(Reuters: Stelios Varias)

What happened next is documented by biographer Lou Cannon in the book Reagan's Disciple.

Reagan called Israel's then-prime minister, Menachem Begin, to express his outrage at the needless bloodshed.

"Begin called back 20 minutes later to say he had given the order to stop the bombings," the book recounts.

Some – including Guardian columnist Mehdi Hasan – have pointed to that phone call to argue Biden could do the same thing and get the same result.

But the White House insists the president's powers are more limited.

Instead, per an Axios report published Tuesday, it's asked Israel to sign a letter by mid-March, promising it will abide by international law while using American weapons.


Pressure to act

As he nursed that ice cream earlier this week, Biden had many reasons to hope his ceasefire prediction was accurate.

Half of Americans now believe Israel's military response has gone too far, according to an AP-NORC poll published last month. That's an increase from 40 per cent a few months earlier.

The same poll shows a growing number of Democrats don't approve of Biden's handling of the war – 59 per cent approved in December; that dropped to 46 per cent in January.

A group of people is pictured standing in front of the White House in the dark, in front of them candles that spell 'ceasefire'

Staff and volunteers of Amnesty International USA, MoveOn, Oxfam America and Win Without War held a vigil outside the White House calling for a ceasefire in December.(Reuters: Leah Millis)

And in this week's Democratic primary in Michigan – a critical swing state with a large Arab-American population – more than 100,000 people voted "uncommitted" rather than support Biden, as a Gaza protest-vote campaign had encouraged them to do.

Other forms of protest have been more extreme. On Monday, a US air force member died after setting himself on fire outside Israel's embassy in Washington, declaring he would "no longer be complicit in genocide".

The latest round of deaths, by the food aid trucks in Gaza City, has only inflamed public anger at Israel.

The US says it's "urgently seeking additional information on exactly what took place".

But State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said "too many Palestinians died today", and the incident proved not enough was being done to help those who were starving.

"People are swarming these trucks because they're hungry, because they need food, because they need medicine and other assistance," he said.

"And that tells you that we need to do more to get humanitarian assistance in."

Even before those deaths, Biden was walking back his optimism about a ceasefire, telling reporters on Thursday it was "probably not" going to happen by Monday after all.

Later, when asked if the Gaza City incident would complicate negotiations, he said: "I know it will."

But Israel knows its military campaign would be in trouble without American support, and this latest incident could present Biden with an opportunity.

With most of the world now calling for a ceasefire, and political pressure on the president intensifying, the horrific scenes in Gaza City could make for a watershed moment.

It could be an opportunity for Biden to use his influence over Israel's leaders, and his control over its weapons supplies, to meaningfully intervene and force Israel to do more to prevent innocents being killed.

Joe Biden dressed in a suit hops off a plane and descend down some stairs.

Biden had  been coming under increasing pressure over America's support for Israel in recent weeks.

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