Shelley Greenspan, White House liaison to the U.S. Jewish community, fought back tears as she began a Zoom briefing on Tuesday evening updating American Jewry about the Biden administration’s positions on a host of issues related to Hamas’s massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7 and its aftermath.
“No words can fully suffice,” Greenspan said, her voice cracking. “At this moment, I hope you’re all finding comfort in our community here, and please know that we are doing everything possible in terms of the developing situation in Israel.”
Two senior U.S. officials—Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, and Liz Sherwood-Randall, homeland security adviser—also spoke on the call.
A former journalist who has covered conflicts in Israel and Lebanon, Finer said the brutality over the past few days “is not only horrific and painful, it is also personal.”
“We often say that the U.S. and Israel celebrate together in times of happiness, as a holiday weekend is meant to be,” he said. “We also mourn together in times of tragedy.”
Speaking hours after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a speech that has been widely received as staunchly pro-Israel—and reportedly which nearly half of Israeli households watched on television—Finer addressed concrete steps that Washington is taking.
The Biden administration is sending extra military assistance and is “bolstering” its “force posture and deterrence efforts in the region,” he said. A “key feature” of the president’s remarks was that “no one, no country, no entity, no organization hostile to Israel should seek to take advantage of this tragic situation,” he added.
Washington is working hard to secure the release of American hostages, according to Finer. The administration has said that 14 U.S. citizens are confirmed dead and 20 missing, with at least some of the latter presumed captured.
“We are working around the clock to determine their whereabouts and confirm their situation,” he said. He stated that it is known “that there are Americans who are among the abducted in Gaza. We are closely monitoring developments about those hostages.”
“As the president emphasized yesterday, we’re working with the Israeli government, including by sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the U.S. government, to advise the Israeli government on hostage recovery efforts,” he said.
The U.S. Defense Department has offered Israel the services of its elite Joint Special Operations Command in garnering intelligence and planning the rescue of hostages, with Jerusalem taking the lead.
Sherwood-Randall is organizing domestic efforts to protect Americans, including Jews, whom terrorists often target in climates such as the current one.
“We know that events like this can galvanize terrorists to act, wherever they may be and wherever their hatred may reside,” she said. “Across the Biden administration and across the country, we are doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of Jews and Jewish organizations.”
The federal government is providing resource guides on crisis training programs, security services and grant funding for protective measures, according to Sherwood-Randall. She added that agencies across the government, including the FBI, U.S. attorney offices and cybersecurity officials, are contacting Jewish communities to “identify any unmet needs.”
Sherwood-Randall is also meeting regularly with law enforcement and national security partners to receive detailed information and threat intelligence, she said.
“None of our intelligence agencies have any specific intelligence indicating that there is a threat to the United States stemming from the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel,” she said. “But we remain vigilant because we know that foreign terrorist organizations and their supporters are committed to attacking the United States.”
Sherwood-Randall stressed that her focus is on both domestic terror organizations and lone attackers motivated by personal grievances, including antisemitism.
As online hate—fueled by antisemitism—proliferates, “where this crosses the First Amendment threshold, we will investigate and ensure that we maintain the safety of our citizens and communities,” Sherwood-Randall said. (She advised the public to report online posts advocating violence or publicizing impending attacks to local law enforcement or the FBI.)
The U.S. State Department and Secret Service are working with Israeli embassies and consulates around the country to ensure that they are protected amid the violence in Israel, per Sherwood-Randall.
The federal government is working “to ensure that we surge the resources and information needed so that demonstrations and protests on campuses and in our communities remain civil and peaceful, and that Jewish students feel safe and secure as they go to school,” she added.
Sherwood-Randall advised Americans in Israel—especially those who seek to depart the country—to register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and to keep their information up to date.
The State Department and U.S. Department of Transportation are working with American airlines to try to increase the number of flights departing from Israel. U.S. and other foreign airlines had canceled flights from Israel en masse due to the security situation.
“We are also exploring what we can do to send contract options by air, and make available land and sea options for Americans who would like to leave Israel in the coming days,” Sherwood-Randall said.