columnIsrael at War

Biden is conciliating, rather than confronting, pro-Hamas Democrats

Netanyahu is blamed for worsening U.S.-Israel relations, but the problem is that the president thinks anti-Israel hecklers “have a point” and that their cause is “really important.”

U.S. President Joe Biden signs the guestbook at the Israeli president's residence in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden signs the guestbook at the Israeli president's residence in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Democrats don’t have “Sister Souljah moments” anymore. That political metaphor refers to a moment in the 1992 presidential campaign when Bill Clinton established himself as a credible centrist candidate by blasting a radical who advocated for the murder of police officers. President Joe Biden won the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination primarily because he was embraced as a centrist alternative to Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But he has governed as if avoiding the wrath of the political left is his priority.

That’s the context for Biden’s decision to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance with a series of statements about the war against Hamas and then an abstention on a vote on Monday in the U.N. Security Council that confirmed a pivot away from support for the terrorists’ elimination to a more equivocal stand. It also demonstrates that the assumption that his support for Israel is in his “kishkes” or instinctive, and therefore worthy of trust, is equally shaky.

That Biden has governed as if he is in thrall to the left has been obvious throughout his presidency as his executive orders implementing the woke diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) catechism in government; open-border policies on illegal immigration; and out-of-control spending that fueled inflation have shown. But it’s been particularly evident in recent months. His willingness to kowtow to pro-Hamas Arab-American politicians in Michigan might have made some political sense before the primary in that state, in which he wanted to undermine an effort to elect an “uncommitted” slate of convention delegates rather than one that supported Biden’s re-election, even though his place on the ballot in November was not in any real doubt. But now that Biden has locked up the 2024 nomination, this would traditionally be a moment for a candidate to pivot to the center. Yet he is still acting as if locking up the support of the most extreme voters in his coalition is the key to victory.

Sympathy for Israel-haters

That’s the only way to explain why Biden seems so intent on not having his own “Sister Souljah moment” with those who are calling him “genocide Joe” and who are hounding him on the campaign trail. As The New York Times reported this week, despite the attempts of his staff to insulate the 81-year-old president from critical voices and potentially embarrassing situations, he simply can’t seem to avoid anti-Israel activists.

At one stop in Raleigh, N.C., Biden’s attempt to speak about his support for Obamacare was interrupted by a dozen protesters who began shouting about the lack of health care in the Gaza Strip, and that hospitals were being “bombed” by Israel and he was complicit in those crimes. Biden could have ignored them or pointed out that the problems there are the responsibility of the Hamas terrorists who governed Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name for the past 16 years. He could have pointed out that it was Hamas that launched a genocidal war against Israel on Oct. 7 and that caused all the casualties suffered in the current conflict. It was also a moment to remind the world that not only were the accusations of Israel bombing hospitals a big lie, but that health-care facilities in Gaza have been—and are still being, as the recent Shifa Hospital military operation proved—used as Hamas command centers, as well as places where Israeli hostages were held captive.

Biden didn’t say anything like that. Instead, he told the crowd in Raleigh that those chanting against Israel and calling for a ceasefire that would crown Hamas as the victors of the war deserved to be treated with deference. “They have a point. We need to get a lot more care into Gaza,” said the president, doubling down on his administration’s stand that Palestinian civilian needs were more important than ensuring that the terrorists who started the war—and are still holding Israeli men, women and children captive—were eliminated.

Just as telling was his response to being heckled in Virginia in January when he was trying to talk about his efforts to defend legal abortions. As the Times noted, after that episode, he met privately with a small group of supporters and urged them not to view the protesters as political enemies, saying that they deserved sympathy and that their cause was “really important.”

This doesn’t just explain the decision of the administration to escalate tensions with Israel. It goes beyond Biden’s efforts to stop Israel from finishing off Hamas by attacking its remaining stronghold in Rafah. He is openly planning not just to open up more daylight between the two countries over the war against Hamas but to abandon Israel diplomatically, slow down the flow of arms and even sanction Israeli politicians as part of a campaign to force Jerusalem to bow to his will.

Using aid as leverage

Democrats may have impeached former President Donald Trump because of what they claimed was his desire to use aid as leverage to gain some domestic political points. But they are now threatening aid hold-ups and sanctions in order to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the war in order to shore up Biden’s ties with his left-wing critics. The administration’s decision this week to let the U.N. Security Council pass a ceasefire resolution that mandated that the war against Hamas stop without linking it to the release of the hostages the terrorist group still holds captive is part of this effort.

That was a clear betrayal as well as a demonstration of how Biden’s skewed political priorities have led him to betray the alliance with Israel. It also shows that the effort to spin the breach in that alliance as being caused by Netanyahu’s overreaction to the U.N. vote is pure bunk motivated by partisan motives.

Netanyahu is getting blasted not just by Democrats but by some left-wing Israelis for having the temerity to denounce Biden’s betrayal. They say that he should be swallowing this shift in American policy instead of calling it out.

This discussion isn’t new. The same things were said about Netanyahu’s stands that earned him the opprobrium of President Barack Obama and his media “echo chamber.” They labeled the Israeli responses to Obama’s efforts to force Israel back to the 1967 armistice lines, surrender part of Jerusalem and then acquiesce to Washington’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear ambitions as evidence that Netanyahu was needlessly confrontational. His refusal to play the part of a loyal vassal to Israel’s superpower ally was considered arrogant.

That was unfair to Netanyahu. He had done his best to defer to Obama but couldn’t be silent when his country’s vital interests were being sold down the river by a president eager for the applause of those in the Muslim world who hated America and its Israeli ally.

It could be argued that his decision to challenge Obama on the Iran nuclear deal in his address to a joint meeting of Congress in 2015 made it easier for Democrats to go along with his tilt toward Tehran by interpreting his defiance as an insult to the president. But by speaking up in this manner, Netanyahu didn’t just rally Americans to oppose the pact. He was also sending a signal to Arab states that feared Iran more than Israel that they should look upon the Jewish state as a potential ally and not merely a meek client state for the Americans. That not only helped persuade Trump to withdraw from Obama’s dangerously weak agreement but led directly to the 2020 Abraham Accords.

Don’t blame it on Bibi

But today, the stakes in the argument with Biden are even higher than those with Obama. Israel is currently locked in an existential struggle with Hamas and its Iranian allies. Israel must win the war against Hamas to ensure that no more Oct. 7 atrocities ever occur, and also to allow the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who were forced to flee their homes in the south and the north because of the fighting to go home in safety. If Biden gets his way and Hamas is able to emerge from the war as its victors, then Israeli deterrence and security are finished. And the fallout from the U.N. vote will only fuel efforts to isolate Israel and harm its economy through lawfare.

The claim that Netanyahu is speaking up only to shore up his right-wing/religious party coalition is a misunderstanding of the reality of post-Oct. 7 Israel. Netanyahu may remain controversial, but the war he is leading is supported by a broad consensus of Israelis who will not accept anything less than a complete victory over Hamas and who are equally unwilling to reward Palestinian terrorism with the offer of statehood.

The only leader playing politics in the war against Hamas is Biden. It is his craven response to antisemitic supporters of a Hamas victory that has caused the current impasse between Israel and the United States. He could have carved out a space in the center of American politics where support for Israel is widespread; instead, he is obsessed with not angering left-wing intersectional activists who hate Israel and falsely think it is a settler/colonial state of “white” oppressors. Blaming the gap that this shift has opened up between Washington’s stand and Israeli positions that would be maintained no matter who was in power in Jerusalem on Netanyahu, is just political spin.

The current crisis in the U.S.-Israel alliance isn’t Netanyahu’s fault. It’s the product of the belief among Democrats that Israel is always in the wrong. And the more that Biden validates those smears, the more evident it is that the claim that support for Israel is in his “kishkes”—and thus to be trusted—is a dangerous supposition.

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

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