Israel was rocked by the news on Thursday that the U.S. State Department had ordered NASA scientist Dr. Amber Straughn to cancel her participation in the Israel Physical Society’s annual meeting. The news came following Straughn’s posting on Twitter that her “travel authorization was revoked” on Wednesday.
The State Department’s move, which gives the appearance of an official boycott, would be stunning under any circumstance. But it is all the more alarming coming on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s shocking remarks in relation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s efforts to place minimal limits on the Supreme Court’s currently limitless powers.
In apparently off-the-cuff remarks to reporters on Tuesday, Biden said curtly: “Like many strong supporters of Israel I am very concerned, and I’m concerned that they get this [judicial reform] straight. They cannot continue down this road. Hopefully, the prime minister will act in a way that he’s going to try to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen.”
Then, after interfering in Israel’s domestic affairs, Biden added: “We’re not interfering. They know my position. They know America’s position. They know the American Jewish position.”
When in a follow-up a reporter asked Biden if he would invite Netanyahu to the White House, the president’s response was immediate and unhesitating.
“No, not in the near term.”
Even before the State Department ordered Straughn to cancel her trip, it was abundantly clear that Biden’s statement wasn’t a fluke. And it wasn’t about Netanyahu. Despite the occasional compliments that Biden and his advisers showered on Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the administration’s policies were not more pro-Israel when they were in power. Notwithstanding the failure of the administration’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran last year, the Biden administration remained committed to its policy of appeasing Iran and facilitating its nuclear advancement, despite the previous government’s expressed opposition.
The Biden administration’s single-minded commitment to its pro-Iran policy was most unmistakable in the strong-arm tactics it used to force Lapid to agree to a gas deal with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon on the eve of the Nov. 1 elections. Under the terms of the deal, in exchange for absolutely nothing, Israel was required to cede its sovereign waters and economic waters, and a natural-gas deposit to Lebanon.
The deal gave Iran’s Lebanese proxy a cash windfall and a foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean. When Israel tried to draw out negotiations, Biden publicly hectored Lapid to close a deal. He refused to speak with Lapid on the phone for months and only did so after Lapid capitulated to Hezbollah demands—transmitted by the U.S. interlocutors.
Then there are the Palestinians. Throughout the previous government’s time in office, the Biden administration was open about its rejection of Israel’s national and legal rights in Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem. They sided with illegal Arab squatters and their supporters as they rioted against their Jewish landlords and Jewish neighbors in Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood in Jerusalem. They opposed Israel’s counterterror operations and opened an FBI investigation against soldiers and officers in the Israel Defense Forces.
The administration subverted the Abraham Accords by compelling Israel to accept the Palestinians in the Abraham Accord summits. Palestinian participation transformed what had been a working alliance against Iran into a pile-on against Israel—orchestrated and led by the State Department.
As for Democrats in Congress, they drew out the approval process of supplemental Iron Dome missiles following “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” making clear that Democrat-controlled congresses cannot be expected to automatically approve military aid to Israel.
All of this happened while the Israeli left was in power.
One of the notable aspects of Biden’s remarks on Tuesday is that the day before, Netanyahu already shelved his government’s judicial reform bill and opted to negotiate with opposition leaders to see if it is possible to reach a compromise package acceptable to a broader majority. Biden’s decision to escalate his rhetoric after Netanyahu had agreed to Biden’s position indicates that the administration was less interested in blocking judicial reform than in destabilizing Netanyahu’s government.
The administration’s statements and actions this week, coupled with its overall policies towards Israel since entering office, indicate that Israel has reached a new phase in its relationship with America.
Until now, Israel had a strategic alliance with the United States. Now as a decade of polling has shown, Israel is viewed with hostility by some Americans, and it is strongly supported by other Americans. The most recent poll of U.S. support by Gallup makes the point explicitly.
The poll showed that overall, most Americans are more supportive of Israel than of the Palestinians. But for the first time, 49% of Democrats are more sympathetic towards the Palestinians than towards Israel. A total of 38% of Democrats are more sympathetic towards Israel. Among Republicans, 78% are more supportive of Israel, and a mere 11% are more sympathetic to the Palestinians. Independents are likewise more supportive of Israel than the Palestinians but by a smaller margin.
All the same, the Democrats are one of two parties. And currently, they are more supportive of the Palestinians than of Israel, and that preference is reflected in administration and congressional policies and actions.
A different, deeper understanding of American society
How is Israel supposed to handle this new relationship?
The first place to look for answers is in the past. In the 1950s and 1960s, France was Israel’s closest ally. But following France’s withdrawal from Algeria, then-French President Charles de Gaulle turned towards the Arabs and against Israel.
Two things are different about Israel’s current crisis with the United States and the fracture of its relations with France. First, de Gaulle was at the height of his power and popularity when he turned his back on Israel. So when he abandoned Israel, he took France with him. This isn’t the case with Biden and America.
Following Biden’s remarks, some Israeli commenters argued that Biden is likely the last Democrat President who will define himself as a Zionist. If current trends continue, no future Democrat president will risk expressing support for Israel.
The truth is more complicated. For the past 20 years, progressives have built a creed predicated on identity politics. They wove together a coalition of predetermined victim groups tied to one another though the concept of “intersectionality.” Intersectionality asserts that all “victim” groups are automatically aligned. The Palestinians had long been allied with some of the designated victim groups—first and foremost, black nationalists tied to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. Using its existing alliances, pro-Palestinian activists lobbied to be included in the intersectional alliance. Their success was not a foregone conclusion. But so far, it has been wildly successful and has been instrumental in undermining support for Israel and the position of Jews in the progressive camp and the Democrat Party.
To change the situation, Israel needs to work assiduously to fray the unanimity of hostility among members of the progressive alliance. This won’t be easy. The work requires a different, deeper understanding of American society than most Israelis possess. But it is doable. Israel can make inroads within the African-American community, and the Latino and Asian communities. It can rebuild its longstanding relationships with labor unions, and high-tech and financial-sector professional associations, among others.
Beyond that, Israel needs to maintain and shore up its ties with the people and sectors of American society who support it. This includes evangelical Christians, Catholics and other conservative groups.
The most astounding claim Biden made in his Tuesday diatribe was that his views are shared by American Jews. Certainly, some American Jewish groups oppose the Israeli right. U.S. Jewish groups One Voice and the New Israel Fund, among others, reportedly financed a significant chunk of the left’s anti-government campaign for the past three months. Progressive Jewish groups are increasingly willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anti-Zionists and BDS activists.
All the same, most American Jews are supportive of Israel, regardless of who is in power. They do not support the administration’s pro-Iran policies or its pro-Palestinian bias. Israel needs to stand with and empower this majority. It must stand with them as they defend themselves and their right to support Israel on campuses, in their workplaces and in their communities.
As for Israel’s relationship with the administration itself, it is fairly clear that Israel needs to recalibrate its strategic posture. It is impossible to know whether the Biden administration will want to negotiate another long-term military aid agreement, and it is also unclear whether Israel is better or worse off maintaining its position as a recipient of U.S. military aid.
Israel may be better off paying for U.S. military platforms out of its own pocket and transforming its relationship from that of a client into one of a partner in defense technology development. On March 13, the U.S. Air Force conducted another unsuccessful test of one of the two hypersonic missiles it is developing. Washington may or may not want Israel’s help with its hypersonic missile program, which is lagging far behind China and Russia’s programs. But Israel is probably the only U.S. ally capable of helping. Certainly, under the present circumstances, Israel’s relationship with the United States will be more secure if it is based on collaboration in areas of mutual interest rather than dependence.
With the U.S. position on issues of critical importance to Israel—first and foremost, Iran and the Palestinians, changing completely depending on the president’s partisan affiliation— Israel needs to stop relying on America on issues that require continuous, high-intensity cooperation.
Building interest-based partnerships with other nations
This brings us to the second difference between the new phase we have entered in U.S.-Israel ties and de Gaulle’s breach of Franco-Israeli ties in the 1960s. When the French leader turned on Israel, Israel had the United States more or less at the ready, willing to replace France as Israel’s superpower ally. Today, Israel has no alternative waiting in the wings.
But it may not need one. Israel is much more powerful today than it was in the 1960s. It doesn’t need a protector; it needs partners. Beginning in 2013, Netanyahu began a process of building interest-based partnerships with nations across the region and across the world. These relationships with states in the region and worldwide already form the nucleus of a strategic posture that can secure Israel’s position.
Biden’s statement on Tuesday was roundly applauded by Israeli leftists hell-bent on overthrowing Netanyahu’s government. They would do well to think this through. Sure, Biden has issues with Netanyahu. But the policies Biden pursues vis-à-vis Iran and the Palestinians work to Israel’s strategic disadvantage regardless of who is in power, as his strong-arming of Lapid on the Hezbollah gas deal made clear.
Biden is not de Gaulle, in stature or in influence. American support for Israel is diminishing in some quarters. Still, it remains strong overall. Much can be done to change the situation for the better. And Israel is a powerful, wealthy nation with viable alternatives to strategic dependence on the United States.
This has been a bad week for Israel-U.S. relations, but it isn’t cause for despair. Rather, it is cause for a sober-minded reassessment and rearrangement of Israel’s relations with America to bring them in line with current realities.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and the host of the Caroline Glick Show on JNS. Glick is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist at Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.