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IDF Confirms Strike On Refugee Camp, Says Hamas Was Target; FBI Says, U.S. Terror At Whole Other Level Amid Mideast War; House GOP And Senate Clash Over Linking Israel, Ukraine War Aid; Interview With Gov. Kathy Hochul Of New York. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 31, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Some 400 Americans are still trapped in Gaza as well as so many others from other countries, all with food and water running out.
Wolf Blitzer is next in The Situation Room live here from Tel Aviv. I will be back tonight at 9:00 Eastern filling in for Kaitlan Collins on the source. I will see you then.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, an Israeli airstrike hits the largest refugee camp in Gaza, unleashing an enormous blast that one witness described as feeling, quote, like the end of the world. An IDF spokesman tells me Israeli forces were targeting a senior Hamas commander who was, quote, hiding behind civilians.
As the Israel/Hamas war escalates, and it's escalating dramatically, U.S. officials are sounding the alarm that the threat of a terror attack against Americans is at a whole other level. Acts of hate against Jewish, Muslim and Arab-American victims on the rise, including a historic surge of Anti-Semitism.
And the U.S. Congress is on a the brink of a showdown over wartime funding as House Republicans reject any link between aid to Israel and Ukraine. I'll discuss that and more with the top Democrat in the House, the minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv, Israel, and you're in The Situation Room.
We're live here in Tel Aviv following all the breaking news on Israel's war against Hamas. The new strike that hit Gaza's largest refugee camp raising very serious questions about and prompting global reaction. Our correspondents are standing by near the frontlines of this war as well as in Washington.
First, let's go to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He's in Southern Lebanon right now. Ben, first of all, what do we know about what led to this Israeli strike?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to the Israeli military, the target of this strike on the Jabalya refugee camp this afternoon was Ibrahim Biari, who they say was the Hamas commander of the central Jabalya battalion, which they said he was responsible for sending what are described as elite operatives into Israel on the 7th of October in that surprise attack. He apparently, according to the Israelis, was -- is responsible for military operations, Hamas military operations in the northern end of Gaza, where, of course, Israel has started this ground incursion last Friday.
We also know, however, is that as a result of this airstrike, according to the head of the nearby Indonesian hospital, there are 400 people either dead or wounded as a result. And this putting further strain on a health system in Gaza that is in a situation of collapse.
Egypt, Jordan, other countries in the Middle East have harshly condemned this attack, which, as you yourself heard, Wolf, was acknowledged by the Israeli military.
BLITZER: Confirmed by an Israeli military spokesman. Ben, like me, you've been to that Jabalya camp, that refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in Gaza. Share with our viewers what it's like inside.
WEDEMAN: Well, under normal circumstances, I was there in May just after another round of fighting in these incidents between Islamic Jihad and Israel. And it was recovering the day after from that round of fighting. And what I can tell you is this is a sprawling refugee camp. According to the U.N. in 2023, it had a population in excess of 116,000. According to the U.N., 90 percent of the water there is barely potable. It is full of children.
I mean, this is what any journalist who's covered Gaza will always say, you go to Jabalya refugee camp, there are children everywhere. And they're curious. They want to know what you're doing. Usually, you have to assign half your crew to simply keep the kids away because you need to get your work done.
And, of course, what we see in the footage that was broadcast from the aftermath of this strike is that there are children everywhere. In fact, CNN has spoken to eyewitnesses who said, in the immediate aftermath of the blast, there were children carrying wounded children from the rubble, a scene of utter horror that happened there in Jabalya this afternoon, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Ben Wedeman reporting from Southern Lebanon, stay safe over there, Ben, I appreciate it very much.
I want to go to CNN's Nic Robertson right now. He's down in Sderot, in Israel, near the Gaza border. Nic, how does this strike fit into the larger picture of this Israeli military offensive that's ongoing?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. The IDF is saying that the ground troops are finding locations where there are Hamas strongholds and then calling in airstrikes on those strongholds. So, what the IDF say today that they were targeting this Hamas commander in a bunker with other Hamas members fits that modus operandi, if you will, the way the military is operating. Troops on the ground fighting Hamas call in the airstrikes.
In this case, the airstrikes came in in this very densely populated neighborhood. But what we're hearing this evening is the pattern of ongoing battle in Gaza. We're hearing helicopter gunships. We've seen helicopters, it appears, firing missiles into Gaza right now.
And I'm going to ask John just to swing the camera, if you can, a little bit over this way, and you can see a set of really bright lights there. They weren't that bright a couple of days ago. And we think that's one of the main crossings around the Erez crossing area, where IDF is channeling forces into the north end of the Gaza Strip. And they wouldn't have bright lights on it like this if they didn't feel that they had control over the vicinity around it, meaning no Hamas operatives close to that crossing point.
So, I think what we're beginning to see and what we're hearing from here is that increasing footprint on the ground, Wolf, but with the airstrikes, because we're hearing and seeing them. But actually how far into Gaza City and other places have the troops got, we don't have those details.
BLITZER: On a separate matter, in a very sensitive matter, Nic, a leaked Israeli intelligence document reportedly listed the deportation of Gaza's Palestinians to Egypt as an option to conquer -- as an option to consider, at least. How is the Israeli government responding to this leaked document?
ROBERTSON: You know, this document, if it's a real document, then it speaks to issues that have been discussed and rejected in the past, as it's been rejected at the moment, that this is not a working document, this is not a plan for the situation right now. But it's hugely sensitive, not just for Egypt, but in Jordan as well, because both Egypt and Jordan feel that they will be the brunt of every inch of Israeli incursion, whether it's expansions into the West Bank or this fighting in Gaza.
A new security dispensation, for example, in Gaza, which put up a huge security buffer, which is something that we understand may be under discussion that cut the Gazan citizens off from coming into Israel for jobs in the future would put huge pressure on the international community to potentially manage Gaza and pressure on Egypt to open its border to allow commerce and residents of Gaza to travel into Egypt for work.
And this is something Egypt rejects because it's politically destabilizing for them. Jordan rejects the concept too because it's politically destabilizing for them, because they've had a lot of Palestinian refugees over the decades, 1967 being a particularly large influx.
And beyond that, they see such an effort, however it's manifested on the ground. They see it as an extension of Israeli expansion, of Palestinians losing their home territory. So, for that reason, it's hugely sensitive. And for that reason, it's not something that the government is saying that they're working on right now. This document that's been leaked, it's something that you say is sensitive because it touches on the core issue, Palestinians, their right to return, and the land where they are.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Sderot, Israel, stay safe over there, Nic, we'll get back to you. I appreciate it very much.
I want to go to the pentagon right now. That's where CNN's Oren Liebermann is standing by with more on the U.S. response to that refugee camp strike. Oren, what's the view from the Pentagon on this latest action by the Israeli military?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no surprise here that both the Pentagon briefing today and the White House briefing today, which occurred several hours after the Jabalya strike from the IDF, focused largely on that strike with reporters hammering away on whether the U.S. believes Israel is doing enough to protect civilian casualties and avoid civilian harm.
John Kirby, the National Security Council's strategic communications coordinator, says the U.S. sees indications Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties, though he wouldn't specifically address this strike or any individual events.
Let me read you a short part of what was he said at the briefing today. He said civilians have been killed to the tune of many thousands, in Gaza, he means there. We recognize that, we observe that and we're not accepting of any single civilian death in Gaza. Make no mistake, the U.S. still standing strongly with Israel here and backing Israel in their ongoing campaign against Gaza.
Again, the Pentagon briefing with General Pat Ryder also focusing in large part on this strike, and, once again, the Pentagon says it wouldn't deal with individual action or individual attack from the IDF. Instead, the Pentagon said, look back at where this started on October 7th, to the Hamas terror attack, essentially holding Hamas responsible for much of what has followed, obviously the deaths and kidnappings on the Israeli side but also it seems holding Hamas responsible for what has followed in Gaza.
I'll read you once again a short part of that briefing here with General Pat Ryder. He said, but I also think it's important to not forget about the common denominator here, which is Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that has taken a page out of the ISIS playbook in terms of brutality and wanton disregard for civility and for human rights.
Wolf, you hear both from the White House and from the Pentagon, the U.S. is standing squarely with Israel here, and there's been very little criticism, even as we've seen in the readouts, pretty much every one of them, when it comes to a senior American official talking to an Israeli counterpart, every one of them mentions the need to avoid civilian casualties in what looks like it may be a long and ongoing campaign in Gaza.
BLITZER: Oren Liebermann reporting from the Pentagon, thank you. Just ahead, we're going to have more on the breaking news on the war right here in the Middle East. Plus, the fight in Congress over wartime aid is about to heat up as House Republicans are pushing a bill with funding for Israel but not for Ukraine. I'll get reaction from the top House Democrat, the minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, he's standing by live.
Stay with us. You're watching The Situation Room. We're live from Tel Aviv.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the airstrike on Gaza's largest refugee camp, Israel saying it was targeting Hamas terrorists.
As the war unfolds here in the Middle East, a showdown is brewing in the U.S. Congress back in Washington. House Republicans are pushing for a vote this week on $14.3 billion in aid for Israel and only for Israel. GOP lawmakers are rejecting the Biden administration's request for a combined Israel-Ukraine aid package, putting them on a collision course potentially with the U.S. Senate.
Joining us now, the top Democrat of the House, the minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries. Leader Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us.
We'll get to the congressional funding fight in a moment, but I want to start with Israel's war against Hamas. You were just here in Israel, I know. An IDF spokesman confirmed to me awhile ago that it was an Israeli airstrike that hit Gaza's largest refugee camp earlier today. Israel says the strike was targeting a senior Hamas official that it claims was the leader in the October 7th terrorist attack against Israel. We don't yet know how many civilians were killed in today's strike on that refugee camp, but is taking out one Hamas leader or maybe two Hamas leaders who may have been there worth the deaths of so many civilians?
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): I support Israel's effort to defend itself. It has not just the right to defend itself but the responsibility toward its citizens and its sovereignty in the face of brutal, horrific attack that took place on October 7th. And for the good of Israel, for the good of the region, for the good of America, the free world, and for the good of the Palestinian people in Gaza, we need to make sure that Hamas is defeated.
At the same time, as President Biden has consistently said, it's our hope and expectation that Israel will follow the international rules of war, particularly as it relates to mitigating and deploying every single measure to try to limit, if not eliminate civilian casualties. And I hope that that will continue moving forward.
BLITZER: Did you think that Israel violated that law today in attacking that Palestinian refugee camp in the hopes of killing a top Hamas leader? JEFFRIES: I'm unfamiliar with the particulars on the strike, and so I'll reserve judgment. But I know that Israel is taking every effort to continue to conduct this necessary war following the international rules of warfare. And I would expect that it would continue to do that.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what's going on in Congress right now. The new House speaker, Johnson, says he expects the standalone Israeli aid package to come to the House floor on Thursday. Will Democrats support this? Does it have enough support to pass this new aid for Israel?
JEFFRIES: Well, we're going to have a leadership meeting to discuss it tomorrow, and then on Thursday morning, we'll convene as a caucus.
But here's what I can say. President Biden has been an incredible leader in terms of articulating the special relationship between the United States and Israel, and also setting forth the need to make sure we continue to have Israel's back and look out for Israel's safety and security, while at the same time, of course, being there for the people of Ukraine in its war against Russia and Vladimir Putin's brutal aggression, as well as making sure we're there for other allies throughout the free world and that we're providing humanitarian aid and assistance to Palestinians in Gaza who may be in harm's way and others throughout the world.
That is the package that was sent to us in both the House and the Senate. The Senate is prepared to move forward in a bipartisan way. House Democrats are prepared to move forward in a bipartisan way. President Biden continues to lead in a bipartisan way. Extreme MAGA Republicans are on an island all by themselves. And they want to irresponsibly condition aid to Israel when Israel is at war and fighting for its very existence, in many ways. That's irresponsible.
BLITZER: Have you actually spoken privately, Leader, with the new House speaker, Johnson, about the plan if this bill goes nowhere, let's say, in the Senate?
JEFFRIES: It's my expectation that I'll have a conversation with him at some point, either tomorrow or on Thursday. And we'll continue to express the position that there is a bipartisan path forward here that House Democrats are ready and willing and able to find the common ground necessary to meet the national security needs of the American people, to keep the government open, to avoid a government shutdown, and do what is necessary to solve problems for hard-working American taxpayers. That's been our position from the very beginning. That will continue to be our position.
The time for brinksmanship is over. The time for gamesmanship is over. The time for partisanship is over. We wasted about three weeks on the House floor in the middle of the House Republican civil war. It's time to put that behind us for extreme MAGA Republicans to stop trying to go it alone and to join us in a reasonable, responsible, normal way to meet the needs of the American people and to be there for our allies throughout the world, including Israel and Ukraine.
BLITZER: Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush is facing bipartisan criticism, as you probably know right now, after she actively accused Israel in engaging in what she called an ethnic cleansing campaign. How do you respond to your Democratic colleague?
JEFFRIES: Israel is not conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign. Israel is not engaged in genocide. Israel was brutally attacked in the most horrific way on October 7th. It has resulted in the largest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust. And Israel is in a position where it is responding and going after Hamas. That is a necessary and urgent project for it to complete. At the same time, we are, of course, going to make sure that we are providing the humanitarian assistance necessary to Palestinian civilians who may be in harm's way through no fault of their own.
That's also one of the reasons why the package that has been put forward by President Biden should be considered in its totality. This is a dangerous world that we are all living in right now. This is a heavy time in America and throughout the world. And we shouldn't be playing partisan political games, which is what it appears the extreme MAGA Republicans are prepared to do this week, and that's unfortunate.
BLITZER: The Democratic leader in the House, the minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, always good to have you with us in The Situation Room. Thanks very much for joining us.
JEFFRIES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. And coming up, there's growing alarm over rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the United States. What the FBI director is now saying about this danger.
And I'll get an update from the New York State governor, Kathy Hochul, after authorities took a person into custody following a series of online threats made against Cornell University's Jewish community.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get back to the breaking news right now, Israel confirming an airstrike against Gaza's largest refugee camp. The target, a senior Hamas commander who was in that refugee camp, according to the Israelis. But officials in Gaza say scores of Palestinian civilians were casualties as well.
Let's go to our Chief National Security Analyst Jim Sciutto. He's on the ground in Northern Israel. Update our viewers, Jim, what's the latest?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Wolf, still assessments under way as to the extent of civilian casualties, and also the result of this strike. First on the casualties, reports on the ground, for as many as hundreds of killed and wounded, those on the ground responding to this saying many more victims are still buried under rubble, so they're still assessing the exact extent of those casualties there.
And then in terms of the target, of course, the IDF says the target of this was a Hamas leader involved in the October 7th attacks, Ibrahim Biari. They say they successfully struck and killed him and other Hamas fighters. Hamas is denying that Biari was killed in this strike.
What is clear is this was an enormous munition or munitions in a highly, very densely populated part of Gaza in this refugee camp, an enormous munition that collapsed as many as 40 homes around that target and possibly collapsed underground tunnels as well, which added to the destruction, that part is clear.
How many civilians are victims, we don't know, and whether the strike was successful in its goal, as described by the IDF, we don't know, or at least don't have it confirmed on the other side. But it is clear from the view of this and the video we see just how big a strike this was in a highly populated, densely populated part of the Gaza strip.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto reporting from Northern Israel, not far from the Lebanese border, stay safe over there as well, thank you.
I want to get reaction right now from a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. Lieutenant Colonel, thank you so much for joining us
First on this Israeli strike on the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza, is taking out one Hamas leader inside that camp and possibly some other Hamas targets, is it worth the deaths of large -- a large number of innocent Palestinians, many of them women and children?
LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: Hello, Wolf. Thank you for having me on the show.
I would exercise a lot of caution relying on reports coming out of Gaza. I remember how the event in the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City started with reports of 500 dead, then 800 dead, and I know how it ended. We were blamed for killing many Palestinian civilians then, but it later became apparent what had happened and it also became apparent that the number of civilian casualties was greatly inflated by all of the so-called authorities in Gaza, which is basically saying Hamas.
Now, I am not saying there are no civilian casualties. What I am saying is that we struck an important military objective, this Ibrahim Biari, who was a battalion commander who was leading operations and fighting against Israel as he was targeted. He and many dozens of enemy combatants were in a tunnel complex underneath the ground. We struck that tunnel complex, and we caused it -- that caused it to collapse.
And it is our assessment that dozens of Hamas operatives were killed. Those are casualties that should be factored in in any report of casualties coming out of the Gaza Strip. And I also understand that there is significant structural damage around, and that is because Hamas built that vast tunnel complex underneath the buildings, and it probably collapsed as a result of the strike.
We have to put into context that this is the same area, Northern Gaza, that we have been asking Palestinian civilians, non-combatants, to evacuate for almost two weeks. Most Palestinians have. But I really ask and would want to understand why have Palestinian civilians either been forced or chosen to remain in that area, in direct risk of their own lives. They should move to the south, they should not be in a war zone, in a main combat area.
And it's not too late to call on all Palestinian civilians in Northern Gaza, please evacuate to a safer area in the south because Northern Gaza is an active combat zone and Hamas uses civilians as their human shields. Today's event is a clear example of it.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel, all of us have seen the pictures, the widespread destruction in that refugee camp. Even if Israel was trying to target Hamas underground tunnels, as you say, this refugee camp was massively hit. Doesn't Israel still have a responsibility to try to avoid civilian casualties, even if Hamas is among them? How can Israel say it's minimizing civilian deaths right now when Israel went in, bombed that refugee camp, presumably killing some Hamas leadership, but also in the process killing a lot of women and children?
CONRICUS: Again, Wolf, you keep repeating women and children, all of that, we haven't seen confirmed numbers of it. We're seeing reports coming out of a party to the conflict. I have not seen confirmed numbers of any of the civilian casualties. I understand that there may be, but I would recommend caution when claiming that they have been killed.
And we've seen this in the past, where many times, it takes weeks, even more, to really understand who was killed in any specific activity, and I think that we should be cautious when claiming that there were non-combatant casualties.
We issued video of the strike, and in that video, everybody can see clearly that our bombs struck in between the buildings. Not on buildings, but in between the buildings, because we were aiming for the tunnel complex where the Hamas combatant commander was.
We didn't strike buildings.
If we would try to strike buildings and cause civilian deaths, of course, the situation would be different, but we are not. And we continue to operate according to the laws of armed conflict. We continue to distinguish. We continue to use proportionate force and use the least amount of force that we can do in order to achieve the military objective.
This case was an important military objective, a senior Hamas operative, commander, and dozens of Hamas combatants. That is why we struck the area. And we will have to continue to look into the information coming out and verify the information and understand how many of those dead are combatants and how many were not. And I wouldn't want to rush into conclusions and immediately say that there were losses of non-combatants. We know of dozens of Hamas combatants that were killed. And I think we should be careful when reporting about it.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, we'll continue this conversation down the road, for sure. Thank you once again for spending a few moments with us.
CONRICUS: Thank you.
BLITZER: And coming up, the FBI chief's warning of a truly historic level of anti-Semitism in the United States as hate towards Muslims and Arabs also is on the rise in the United States.
And the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, joins us live with an update on the threats against the Jewish community at Cornell University with a person now taken into custody.
BLITZER: Two top Biden administration officials are sounding the alarm right now about the growing threats to Jewish, Muslim and Arab- American communities in the United States, which have skyrocketed since the Hamas attacks against Israel.
Brian Todd is monitoring the story for us. Brian, how seriously are they taking these threats?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seriously enough to testify in the Senate today, Wolf, and speaking in serious terms over threats all over the U.S. connected to this war.
FBI Director Christopher Wray says the conflict in the Middle East raises the threat of a domestic attack here in America to, quote, a whole other level.
TODD (voice over): From America's top law enforcement and homeland security officials, a frightening assessment of the atmosphere of fear now surrounding the Jewish and Muslim communities in the U.S. since the Israel/Hamas war began on October 7th.
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: In the days and weeks since, we have responded to an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab-American communities and institutions across the country.
TODD: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray in Senate testimony said the ongoing war has ramped up the threat landscape inside the U.S.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Our most immediate concern that is violent extremists, individuals or small groups, will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives.
TODD: Wray says it's not just violent extremists inspired by foreign terrorist organizations who are a threat to the Muslim and Jewish communities in the U.S. but also lone wolves who have targeted those groups since October 7th.
WRAY: We've already seen that with the individual we arrested last week in Houston who had been studying how to build bombs and posted online about his support for killing Jews, and with the tragic killing of a six-year-old Muslim boy in Illinois in what we're investigating as a federal hate crime.
TODD: The top Jewish and Muslim civil rights organizations in the U.S. both report huge spikes in incidents targeting their groups. The Anti- Defamation League says since October 7th, there's been a nearly 400 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in America.
JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: This is like a virus. It's spreading across the country, around the world.
TODD: And the Council on American-Islamic Relations says complaints of incidents targeting Muslims in the U.S. have been about three times higher since October 7th than they were during the same period last year.
COREY SAYLOR, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: There's no way to really give you a sense of the incoming flood of calls. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week with people reaching out with various requests for help, some of them really traumatized by what has happened to them.
TODD: Like a family in the Chicago area who put up a Free Palestine sign in their yard. They got a letter saying, remove the sign or burn. In Upstate New York, a person is in custody in connection with a series of threats against Jewish students at Cornell University.
SEAMUS HUGHES, EXPERT ON EXTREMISM, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA AT OMAHA: You look at the individual arrested, they're almost pedestrian in nature. These are average citizens that are drawn into an online environment that encourages them to commit these acts.
TODD (on camera): FBI Director Christopher Wray says the bureau is combating these incidents on multiple levels, deploying joint terrorism task forces, undertaking hate crime investigations and gathering intelligence. But experts who monitor extremism tell us, we're likely nowhere near an end to the domestic threats connected to the Israel/Hamas war. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, Brian, very disturbing information indeed, thank you. For more on all of htis, including that person in custody right now in connection with the anti-Semitic threats at Cornell University, I'm joined by the governor of New York State, Governor Kathy Hochul. Governor, thanks so much for joining us.
What can you tell us, first of all, about this person of interest, as this person is described, and what police are learning from them about what's going on at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York?
GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): Well, thank you, Wolf. And as soon as I had heard about these threats, I immediately raced to Cornell to sit with students yesterday morning. We were in the Center for Jewish Living.
Wolf, these young people are scared. And to have seen online posts that called on others to follow Jewish students home and to murder them, it sends chills down your spine.
So I told those students that I would leave no stone unturned. We work hard. I left the state police in charge, working close with the FBI and local law enforcement. And I said we're going to work really hard to bring an end to this and to the fullest extent of the law, prosecute any individuals involved in what is a hate crime at the federal level and at the state level.
We learned today that there are -- yes, there's a person of interest who has been questioned, now in custody of the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force as well, but started with the state police. And that's all I can reveal about this now, but this is an ongoing investigation.
And the message is clear: you will be caught. You may think that you can be anonymous and post what you want, but there will be consequences, and this will be an example of how serious we are taking these threats against New Yorkers.
BLITZER: Does law enforcement, Governor, have enough evidence already to officially charge this so-called person of interest?
HOCHUL: That's not something I can talk about right now. I'm sure a case is being built, but I don't want to jeopardize the success of any kind of prosecution. So I won't speak anymore on the substance, other than these students will sleep a little bit better tonight knowing that there is a person of interest in custody, and that's where I want to give them some relief, to the enormous stress they're under.
And whether it's a Jewish student or a Palestinian, Muslim -- people are under enormous distress right now. And the emotional toll that these hate crimes are taking is -- it's cruel, and it has to stop.
And I gave a major speech on this today, talking about how the rise of antisemitism, Islamophobia, people feeling so vulnerable going to their synagogues and their mosques or their classes. This is not who New Yorkers are, we're calling it out, we're standing firm. We'll support law enforcement and let people know that the state of New York will have their backs and take this seriously. BLITZER: As you know, the New York City area is home to the second
largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel.
What is the threat level there right now, as far as the Jewish community is concerned? And what are you watching for most closely?
HOCHUL: Wolf, it was already escalating. I did some events over the summer, another one in September, calling on people to be more vigilant, to tell them if there is an increase in antisemitic posts, certainly more so than others. But a rise in all hate crimes.
But we also have to be looking up for each other. We have law enforcement on high alert. I called on our campuses to do what I asked them to do. Make sure that they have a hotline so students feel at least to report what they see and hear, whether they themselves are the victim or they see someone else having to be subjected to this kind of hate speech or actions.
So I want all of -- all of those forces, and I just put $75 million on the table today, to help local law enforcement helped secure these facilities.
Those young students yesterday at Cornell ask me for one thing. They said, can you give us more security cameras right here, so we don't have to worry so much? I said yes, we'll make sure that happens.
So, it's all about security features, it's about awareness, it's about letting law enforcement know that this is our top priority, so people can finally feel safe again. But I think you are right, and I hate to say this -- I don't think this is the end yet. This -- we have a long way to go to start restoring the civility and the respect for different people's religions and beliefs that has never been perfect, but it's certainly in rapid decline since October 7th.
And we've got to start pulling ourselves back, and be a model to the rest of the nation and the world about how New Yorkers are feeling very passionate about their views, but you can be passionate about your beliefs. But it doesn't mean that you have to be harmful or hateful to another New Yorker.
BLITZER: Governor Kathy Hochul of New York, thanks for all you're doing. We really appreciate it. We'll continue this conversation down the road. Sadly, this subject, this hatred is not going away.
We'll take a quick break. Much more news right after this.
HOCHUL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Israel's blood supply has become a critical resource, especially during wartime. I visited Israel's unique shielded underground blood bank that processes and tests the country's entire blood supply, and got a glimpse of the protective measures that ensure its survival from an attack.
BLITZER (voice-over): On the surface, it looks like an ordinary office building, but it's what lies beneath that makes this facility one-of- a-kind.
PROF. ELAT SHINAR, DIRECTOR, MDA NATIONAL BLOOD SERVICES DIVISION: You can't really live without blood, and there's no artificial blood.
BLITZER: Just outside of Tel Aviv, nearly 50 feet below ground, lies what is believed to be the only world's only shielded underground blood bank.
SHINAR: All the blood comes here, and we process it.
BLITZER: Israel's entire blood supply is processed and tested here at the Marcus National Blood Services Center operated by Israel's Magen David Adom.
SHINAR: The whole idea of this place is because we built in a shelter. So, we are now actually in the shelter and the convention --
BLITZER: Below -- deep underground.
SHINAR: Yes, yes.
BLITZER: Because this, presumably, would be a major target for Israel's enemies?
SHINAR: Yes, absolutely. And we were very concerned about the people, and the blood, of course, the blood inventory. In the case of sirens now, the rocket attack, we are protected.
BLITZER: The organization actually moved into the building on October 9th, just days after the Hamas terror attacks. It is now more vital than ever in a country at war.
SHINAR: We receive blood to all the hospitals and to the army. When we evacuate the patient, either the civilian or the military ambulances or helicopters, they get blood on the way to the hospital already, provided by us.
BLITZER: They are three levels underground, each level more secure than the next, and all designed to operate even if there is a direct attack. On the first level, they sort, label and test the blood.
SHINAR: So, we are now in the testing laboratory, which we call the mega lab. The idea is, they put all the tubes in here, and everything is automated. It is like hands off.
BLITZER: So, this is a state-of-the-art technology.
SHINAR: Absolutely. Absolutely. The results are transmitted to the main computer system, to boost the file of the unit, and the file it will be known. Here, you can see they are waiting for their turn. And once they can go on, they will go in.
BLITZER: The center handles more than blood. They also handle plasma. Plasma is used to increase volume when someone has lost a lot of blood. It is stored frozen.
SHINAR: Too cold, minus 30 degrees.
BLITZER: So cold.
Running all this requires electricity, which is why the lowest level is key to the operation.
So, where are we going now?
SHINAR: Now we are going to the minus three. The most protected place in the building.
BLITZER: The lowest level. So, we will be deep underground. So, if the enemy of Israel were launching rockets or bombs, and hit the top, people in this building would be safe.
BLITZER: The whole building is like a bomb shelter.
SHINAR: The blood will be safe. Everything that we do would be safe.
BLITZER: The blood would not be destroyed.
The power for the whole operation is protected by enormous blast doors that are some of the largest in Israel.
MOSHE NOYOVICH, PROJECT DIRECTOR, MARCUS NATIONAL BLOOD SERVICES CENTER: In an emergency, when we get an alert from the IDF, we close the blast doors.
BLITZER: Professor Shinar says, this facility so deep underground, it can withstand a chemical attack, poison gas or biological attack, protecting life saving blood and plasma for a country at war.
We are very deep below the ground. So, it's very secure. God forbid, if a bomb --
BLITZER: This would be fine.
SHINAR: Yeah, and you can look to the window, we talked about windows, okay? The outer window is a shelter window, which would close.
BLITZER: So, it's secured.
SHINAR: Yeah, in peacetime, we can open it. So, daylight can come in.
BLITZER: This is not peacetime now.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back at the top of the hour for "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT". Thanks for watching.