columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden and Schumer’s pivot away from Israel is already backfiring

Democrats are reminded that most Americans still support Israel, and that their stand is helping the GOP, which plans on inviting Netanyahu to address Congress.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 18, 2023. Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 18, 2023. Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The trouble with living in a bifurcated political culture isn’t just that everyone seems to be living in an ideological bubble. We’ve seen how this coarsens and embitters public discourse. But in the last week, it’s now clear that this isn’t just something that impacts the way ordinary citizens interact with each other. It’s also leading politicians to make some terrible decisions.

That’s the best way to understand how President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer walked into a political trap of their own making when they decided to attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In his State of the Union address, Biden had more harsh words for Netanyahu than for the Hamas terrorists who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel. Then Schumer gave a speech on the floor of the Senate that not only labeled the prime minister as being equally responsible for the lack of peace with the Palestinians as Hamas in Gaza and the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which has repeatedly rejected offers of statehood while also subsidizing terrorism.

What’s more, speaking at the behest of the White House because both men thought it would help the president’s re-election prospects, Schumer called for regime change in Jerusalem. In a blatant act of interference in the politics of a fellow democracy, the senator demanded that Israel hold new elections and oust Netanyahu, who won the last Knesset election that was held only 16 months ago. The senator seemed not to know or just not care about the fact that while Netanyahu remains a controversial figure, the overwhelming majority of Israelis back his policies of continuing the war until victory. They also oppose a Palestinian state that would allow Hamas to make good on its promise to repeat the horrors of Oct. 7.

Giving a gift to the GOP

Yet days later, Biden had to disavow any intention of trying to overthrow Netanyahu’s government. Even more humiliating is the way Schumer is being forced to acquiesce to the idea of inviting Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, where he could use that bully pulpit to make the case to support Israel’s war to finish off the Hamas terrorists who threaten not just the Middle East but the world.

Of course, that’s not what Schumer wants to do. But the backlash against his speech was such that he quickly realized that he had made a terrible mistake, even if he and other Democrats continue to try to justify his words. Far from isolating Netanyahu, Biden and Schumer had handed a campaign issue to the Republicans, who were quick not just to condemn the Majority Leader but to use the administration’s statements to buttress their claim that they are the only pro-Israel party. That led Senate Republicans to invite Netanyahu to give a virtual address to their caucus meeting this week, where he briefed them on the war against Hamas and Israel’s intentions to keep fighting until the terrorists are eliminated. House Speaker Mike Johnson then said he intended to ask the prime minister to address Congress, leaving Senate leader Schumer in a position where a refusal to go along with the idea would brand him and his party as foes of the Jewish state.

The problem for Biden and Schumer was that they were so immersed in the debates inside their own party that they forgot that what passes for conventional wisdom among left-wing Democrats, especially when it comes to Israel, bears little resemblance to the political reality of the rest of America.

Biden thinks that the reason he’s currently trailing Trump in the polls and in danger of losing key battleground states like Michigan and Nevada is that he’s been too supportive of Israel since Oct. 7.

Inside the left-wing bubble

There has been a civil war going on within the Democratic Party since then as lower-level administration officials, congressional staffers and even Biden re-election campaign workers have voiced their opposition to Israel’s war against Hamas and demanded an immediate ceasefire that would leave the genocidal terrorists still standing and make them the victors of the war they launched. Party activists, most of whom appear to have been indoctrinated in the woke ideologies of critical race theory and intersectionality that falsely label Israel and the Jews as “white” oppressors, mimic Hamas’s lies about “genocide” being committed against the Palestinians and want the administration to sanction, rather than to aid, the Jewish state.

Their lack of enthusiasm, as well as the potential defection of Arab-American voters, is seen as the key factor that could cost Biden Michigan and the support of younger voters around the country who also have been taught to hate Israel.

That’s a mistaken analysis since—as the shift in voting patterns among Hispanics and African-Americans shows—Biden’s real dilemma is the way working-class voters are abandoning the Democrats. The president’s failed economic policies, coupled with the open border he created that has let in between 7 million and 10 million illegal immigrants, are creating what could be a devastating political realignment due to the Democrats being seen as the party of credentialed elites who are indifferent to the concerns of ordinary Americans.

Biden and Schumer seem to have been only listening to the political left, where Israel is falsely seen as a villainous “apartheid” state. The president, who claims he ran for office in 2020 because of his anger about the 2017 “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., now seems to think that the only way he can hold onto office is by seeking to appease antisemitic voters.

They’re not the only ones who believe this.

More than 100 Democratic Party donors signed a letter demanding that Biden act to end the war in Gaza and prioritize aid to the Palestinians. And 19 Senate Democrats signed a letter calling for the administration to conduct a new push for an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected such schemes because they would have also meant they would have to live in peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. But to suggest forcing Israel to accept such a threat to their existence in the aftermath of Oct. 7 would not only be immoral but grant the Palestinians a reward for terrorism.

The Democrats, however, got a recent reminder that there is a wide world beyond the ideological box in which those views and hostility to Israel are commonplace.

The pushback against Schumer’s attack on Israel from mainstream Jewish organizations, including umbrella groups like the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations, had to shock the senator since he assumed that most of organized Jewry agreed with him and with leftist Jewish groups about opposing the continuation of the war against Hamas and deposing Netanyahu.

Other pro-Israel Democrats, like former House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and former Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla), either distanced themselves from Schumer’s stand or maintained silence about it, showing that they understood the danger to their party posed by the abandonment of Israel.

A bully pulpit for Netanyahu

More importantly, the willingness of Republicans to eagerly embrace Netanyahu and Israel was a cue to the Democrats that outside of the political left, support for Israel remains strong. And though left-wing activists may stay home or vote for a third-party candidate in November, there are far more votes from independents and moderates in the political center and swing states. That includes the support of some liberal Jews who have been shocked by the way a surge in antisemitism has impacted their lives and endangered their children on college campuses.

A Netanyahu speech in Washington will be deeply embarrassing for Biden since he has refused to invite him to the White House since he returned to the premiership, as the administration openly rooted for the Israeli left to topple him. But just as the Biden-Schumer attacks on issues supported by Israelis strengthen Netanyahu at home, so, too, have their broadsides encouraged Republicans to double down on their embrace of the Jewish state.

Such an address will be a great opportunity for the prime minister to make Israel’s case to Americans and to the world in a way he has been largely denied since the current war began. That’s a huge win for Israel in its efforts to combat the lies told by Hamas and its American apologists who have had free reign in the corporate media. But it will also enrage the political left and further divide the Democrats, with some likely boycotting it while others will attend as they signal their voters that, unlike the president, they are not in thrall to the woke Israel-haters.

That’s the last thing Biden and other Democrats wanted to happen because it will help demonstrate how much support Israel still has even after months of left-wing smears and biased reporting that mimics Hamas propaganda. That will make it even harder for them to force the prime minister to stop the war before Hamas is defeated. 

It will also demonstrate that when political leaders stop listening to voices outside of their echo chamber, they can forget that there is a world in which they, their advisers and their press cheering sections live. When it comes to the broad backing of Jerusalem from those not in deep-blue enclaves, it presents a sobering lesson in political math for Democrats.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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