President Joe Biden has sparked a backlash from pro-Palestinian groups after saying he saw pictures of children who were beheaded during the Hamas attack on Israel.
Hamas militants stormed through a border fence from Gaza early on Saturday morning and killed Israelis in their homes, on the streets and at an outdoor music festival. They also took dozens of people hostage.
Israel formally declared war on Sunday, and has been launching intense airstrikes on Gaza since. Israel has also cut off electricity and deliveries of food, fuel and other supplies to the long-blockaded enclave of 2.3 million Palestinians.
The Hamas attack killed more than 1,200 people in Israel, Reuters reported, citing the Israeli military. Gazan health officials say Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 1,000 people in Gaza, according to the agency. The Israeli military says it is preparing for a possible ground operation in Gaza, The Associated Press reported early Thursday.
Addressing a roundtable with Jewish community leaders at the White House on Wednesday, Biden said Saturday’s attack was a “campaign of pure cruelty” and “the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.”
In his remarks, he referenced unsubstantiated reports that have circulated widely on social media that Hamas had beheaded babies during Saturday’s attack.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.”
A White House spokesperson later told The Washington Post that Biden and U.S. officials have not actually seen pictures or independently confirmed the reports.
The spokesperson said the president had based his comments on claims from a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli media reports. The White House has been contacted for further comment via email.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces told The Intercept on Wednesday that they could not confirm that Hamas had beheaded babies.
“We cannot confirm it officially, but you can assume it happened and believe the report,” they said.
Biden’s comments prompted criticism on social media.
“I can’t wait to hear why I should vote for a man that lied about seeing photo evidence of decapitated babies in an effort to drum up hatred of my people and encourage their genocide,” he wrote.
The nonprofit Institute for Middle East Understanding wrote that Biden “lied this afternoon during a speech, saying he’d seen photos of ‘terrorists beheading children.’ The White House immediately walked it back, saying he in fact had not seen photos, only unverified claims. Disinformation has deadly consequences for Palestinians.”
Sulaiman Ahmed, a journalist, wrote: “FAKE NEWS: BIDEN CONFIRMS THAT HE DID NOT SEE THE PICTURES OF THE BEHEADED CHILDREN. His comments were based on Netanyahu, once again.”
Maureen Murphy, a senior editor at The Electric Intifada, an online publication that says it focuses “on Palestine, its people, politics, culture and place in the world,” wrote: “Biden lied about seeing images of beheaded children. LIED ABOUT SEEING IMAGES OF BEHEADED CHILDREN.”
Murphy added: “This is all about manufacturing consent for genocide in Gaza. I cannot wrap my head around the profound implications of this.”