Israeli strike on José Andrés aid group prompts new level of US backlash

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Israel’s strike against aid workers trying to get food to residents in Gaza reverberated across Washington on Tuesday, particularly resonating because of the American death and the connections the group’s founder — José Andrés — has to the capital.

Administration officials lashed out at new levels, and Israel was left struggling for damage control.

Seven people died in Monday’s strike against a convoy from World Central Kitchen, an aid organization that provides meals to civilians suffering from hunger due to conflicts and is led by Andrés, who is also a well known Spanish-American chef with several restaurants in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strike was “unintentional” and killed “innocent people.”

An administration official, who has worked with Andrés on international food and health security initiatives, called the strike “devastating” and said it compounds the human suffering that Andrés and his team were trying to relieve.

The strike also “underscores Israeli carelessness toward Gaza civilians and international humanitarians alike,” said the official, who like others in this article was granted anonymity to speak candidly about their thoughts on Israel’s recent actions.

It was “definitely a mistake and they have some answering to do,” a Defense Department official said. “Something went wrong.”

A dual American-Canadian citizen was killed in the strike, which appears to be the first instance of an American killed by an Israeli strike during the conflict in Gaza. The State Department didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

During a meeting with Israeli officials on Tuesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed his country will investigate the strike and outlined other steps the government is taking to address concerns about aid distribution in Gaza.

The White House was “outraged” to learn of the strike, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. Still, Kirby said Washington would continue to support Israel’s defense of itself, even while “there are issues of deconfliction that clearly need to be fleshed out and improved.”

He said that there’s “no evidence” yet that Israel deliberately killed aid workers, cautioning reporters to wait for the results of Israel’s investigation into the matter.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Tuesday that Washington has already brought the matter up directly with the Israeli government and stressed “the imperative to do more to protect innocent civilian lives.”

But other officials who talked to POLITICO said they’re frustrated with how Israel has conducted investigations in the past and are doubtful there will be accountability.

The official who worked with Andrés cited the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who Israel found was likely killed by an Israeli soldier while reporting in the occupied West Bank in 2022. But no one was punished for her death, and the U.S. wouldn’t conclusively place blame on Israel.

Israel will “do and say whatever is necessary to maintain the status quo and I have little hope their investigation will be transparent or honest,” the official said.

A third U.S. official noted that the strike on aid workers seemed intentional, since it included three bombs: “Three hits on three cars in a row is not an accident. We aren’t stupid,” the official said.

The workers were traveling in clearly marked cars on a route designated as safe for aid trucks when they were attacked.

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill have seized on the strike to further their criticism of how the Israeli government is handling the war and continue calls for conditions on Washington’s support for its Middle Eastern ally — especially if American lives are at risk. The White House has so far opposed such conditions, however.

The fact that the workers came from Andrés’ charity also carries particular weight in Washington, where the chef holds a number of restaurants frequented by foreign policymakers, including Zaytinya, Jaleo and Minibar, said Dave Harden, a former humanitarian assistance coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“José Andrés is also a local DC institution and hero,” Harden wrote in a thread on X, formerly Twitter. “This tragedy in Gaza could very well have an outsized impact on the policy environment, including amplifying calls for a cease-fire.”

Andrés himself spoke with President Joe Biden on Tuesday, and also urged Israel to stop what he called “indiscriminate killing.” World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore piled on in a statement, calling the strike an attack on all humanitarian organizations helping to alleviate the consequences of war.

“This is unforgivable,” she added.

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