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OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden’s Zionist bona fides and burden

Biden has actually performed like a Zionist since Oct. 7.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 11, 2023. Credit: Oliver Contreras/official White House photo.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 11, 2023. Credit: Oliver Contreras/official White House photo.
Thane Rosenbaum. Photo by Bruce Gilbert
Thane Rosenbaum
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech ... From Itself.”

The world feels like it’s on fire, with flames spreading in diverse directions. If the Jewish state was not at center stage, however, there would not have been any smoke. Ukrainians wonder why no fuss was made over Russia’s invasion of their country nearly two years ago. Twenty thousand Ukrainian children were kidnapped. No posters exist for them; no one is tearing down posters, insisting that it’s all propaganda.

What a difference a change of scenery and age-old antisemitism makes. Ukrainians shouldn’t feel too neglected, though. The infant Israeli hostages of Hamas, or the Jewish babies who were beheaded and incinerated with the blessings of Sharia law, haven’t generated all that much sympathy or outrage, either.

Yet Israel’s retaliation in defense of its sovereignty, and to ensure its future sanity, remains a global obsession. The preciousness of Palestinian lives is a true mystery, given that roughly a million Muslims have been killed by other Muslims over recent years and not a global tear was shed, a single protest mounted or media blitz unveiled.

The world demands of Israel that no harm come to Gazans, even though the Jewish state targets terrorists and many of the civilians in Gaza are adult accessories to Hamas’s crimes.

There are showdowns everywhere, with the soundtrack of the war in Gaza blaring in the background. A multifront battle simmers in the Middle East with Iran stoking the kindling of its proxies—Hezbollah and the Houthis. Mass demonstrations fueled by ill-informed passions have overtaken college campuses and city streets.

Hollywood’s awards season kicked off over the weekend with the Golden Globes. Amid all the fashionable attire and the merriment of an open bar, there was restless anticipation that an acceptance speech might go off-script—a shout-out to an agent gets bumped for actual shouting about Palestinians. Remember Vanessa Redgrave, who received an Oscar in 1978 for Best Supporting Actress and took her support one step further, stridently calling Israel “Zionist hoodlums”?

In those days, such a remark was widely condemned. Today, I am not so sure. In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre, two sets of Hollywood elites sent signed letters to U.S. President Joe Biden: one imploring him to secure the release of the Israeli hostages; the other urging him to call for a ceasefire to spare Gazans. Both lists had many signatories with little to no overlap.

Hollywood has taken sides, albeit in a very un-cinematic fashion—a mere lending of names to letters. Only a handful of celebrities have been outspoken and morally courageous, as would be expected of actors who often play heroic characters who save the day. Agents and publicists have done a cynically admirable job reminding clients that spinelessness translates into better paydays. Save the backbone for the silver screen when riding off into the sunset.

A presidential election is heating up, too, in America. Yet, even in battleground states, sides are declared with ballots, not bullets. Nonetheless, the warfare in Gaza has already become a campaign issue. The Biden administration’s favoritism toward Israel at the perceived expense of the Palestinian plight is splitting the Democratic Party. Some governmental personnel have resigned in protest. Former President Barack Obama’s West Wingers have taken to social media to publicly proclaim their break with Biden.

In many ways, this extra caretaking of the “special relationship” has been a total surprise. Soon after his inauguration, Biden instantly kowtowed to the progressive wing of his party. He may have run as a moderate, but he has governed like a progressive. Ironically, throughout Obama’s two terms, progressives felt betrayed by his more left-of-center orientation. It is now Biden who has championed (or simply neglected) America’s wide-open border, green energy initiatives, spotty crime control and identity politics plotline with the woke mantra “systemic racism.”

Yet, almost inexplicably, when it came to Israel, he has selected a different refrain, an illicit word choice among a growing number of Democrats. He acknowledged that while not Jewish, he is a longstanding “Zionist.”

“The Squad” gasped audibly.

And he wasn’t merely placating a needy audience of Jews and Israelis. Biden has actually performed like a Zionist since Oct. 7. He resupplied Israel’s military, publicly stated that Israel has the right to defend itself, declared that the defeat of Hamas is no less important than America’s vanquishing of Islamic State, and displayed moral clarity in blaming civilian casualties on Hamas and not Israel.

Yes, at times Biden paid lip service to calls for more precision in Israel’s bombing campaign. And he helped negotiate a humanitarian pause in the fighting to exchange Israeli hostages for imprisoned Palestinians. But overall, Biden sees Israel’s moral dilemma and geographic handicap clearly. Even his State Department, otherwise stacked with Iran nuclear-deal alumni, has cleared a path for Israel to maneuver.

This has not been without sacrifice, and Biden may pay a price for it. Obama was no Zionist. If he were president today, as he was in 2014 during Israel’s last war with Hamas, the drumbeat from the White House would have been for Israel to exercise more “restraint,” along with hectoring about the “disproportionate” Palestinian death toll.

How would this change with a Republican presidency? Former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis genuinely comprehend the importance of Israel’s security. The mindset of the frontrunner, however, is a mystery. After he left office, Donald Trump had dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes in Mar-a-Lago. And his first statements after Oct. 7 seemed to be critical of Israel and admiring of its enemies.

To be sure, Trump’s foreign policy was bountiful in its pro-Israel tilt: moving the American embassy to Jerusalem; reimposing Iranian sanctions; ignoring Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights; and brokering the Abraham Accords.

But was that Trump, or was it the handiwork of those Jewish triplets in his administration—son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner; special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt; and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman? Unlike with his other cabinet-level appointments, Trump didn’t interfere with matters involving Israel.

Without that Jewish touch, who knows whether the alt-right—with its isolationist platform and antisemitic impulses—would not have exerted more influence over Trump’s foreign policy? They were loudly present at red-state rallies but without access to the Oval Office.

Biden has most definitely chosen sides. If his pro-Israel leanings result in costing him the election, Democrats will wonder whether he chose wisely.

Originally published by The Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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