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A look at VP Harris' meeting with Israeli cabinet member Benny Gantz

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's still no deal between Israel and Hamas for another temporary cease-fire, but the Biden administration has been pushing for a six-week pause to get hostages out of Gaza and more humanitarian aid into the territory. Earlier this afternoon at the White House, Vice President Harris talked about this with one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political rivals. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is keeping tabs on it. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Why is a member of Netanyahu's war cabinet at the White House today?

KHALID: Well, his name is Benny Gantz, and he's, as you mentioned, a part of Israel's war cabinet. And the White House says that Gantz asked for these meetings. And Israel is in the midst of a war, so they agreed to this, of course. He's here in Washington not just meeting with Harris, but also with the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and also Biden's top national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. But as our colleague Daniel Estrin has pointed out, Israel's prime minister, Netanyahu, is upset that Gantz is here.

You know, as you say, these two men are seen as political rivals. Gantz is a centrist, so he falls, you know, to the left of Netanyahu on the political spectrum on a lot of issues. And I will say that this also comes at a moment in which President Biden has expressed some reservations about the way that the Israeli military is pursuing Hamas in Gaza. You'll recall, right after October 7, Biden threw his full support around Netanyahu, quite literally hugging him. But in more recent weeks, as the Palestinian death toll has climbed, Biden has called the response that the Israeli military has conducted as being, quote, "over the top."

SHAPIRO: Well, what did they talk about in their meetings, and what message did the vice president emerge with?

KHALID: Well, the meeting was private, but the White House tells us that Harris said, as the administration has always said, that Israel has the right to defend itself after those October 7 attacks. But at the same time, she said too many Palestinian civilians are being killed. Her focus today was really on, you know, what have become rather desperate conditions in Gaza. She talked about the need to reach a hostage deal and the need to get more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. You know, we've seen these new airdrops of aid from Jordan and the United States. But the White House has been clear that far more aid could move in by land. And the U.S. is trying to pressure Israel to allow that to happen.

The vice president also talked about the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where a lot of Palestinians are now sheltering. I'm sure you recall that the Israeli military has said it wants to go in there. The Biden administration has really been trying to pressure the Israeli government that it needs to come up with this realistic plan to move civilians out of that part of Gaza if indeed Israeli forces intend to conduct this major military operation in Rafah.

SHAPIRO: The vice president's comments today build on remarks she made over the weekend about humanitarian aid. Here's part of what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act.

SHAPIRO: Asma, tell us more about the context for those remarks and the significance of where she made them.

KHALID: Ari, I think the setting and the timing were key. She made these comments in Selma, Ala., on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. And this comes, in fact, after you've seen some leaders of one of the most prominent Black congregations in the country, the AME church, call out last month for the U.S. to end its financial aid to Israel, in fact, describing the Gaza war as a genocide.

You know, the Biden administration is very eager to get this temporary pause, and they are facing mounting pressure from some key constituencies in their own party, not just Arab American voters but also Black voters and young voters. And the White House sees Harris as particularly able to connect with these key demographic groups. And, you know, the content of what Harris is saying is not all that different from Biden. It is, in fact, the same policy, but her tone is different. You know, for example, over the weekend in Selma, she spoke rather passionately about families being forced to eat leaves and animal feed and children dying of dehydration.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thank you.

KHALID: Always good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.