newsIsrael at War

Mixed reviews for Biden’s wartime visit to Israel

“What the Israelis must do is cover their ears and not let the United States dictate what they can and can’t do militarily against Hamas,” said Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes U.S. President Joe Biden at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes U.S. President Joe Biden at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.

“I came to Israel with a single message: You are not alone,” U.S. President Joe Biden posted on social media on Wednesday. As Air Force One returned stateside, some critics say the president should have left well enough alone, even as America’s close ally is at war.

Biden’s several hours in Israel proved “a missed opportunity to show strength and secure the release of American hostages,” wrote the Republican National Committee.

Biden barely mentioned the kidnapped Americans but did announce $100 million in new funding for Gaza, “showering Hamas terrorists with more taxpayer funding.”

He declared “the other team” responsible for bombing a Gaza hospital—a “weak statement” that “did not include a rebuke of his fellow Democrats, who took the word of Hamas propagandists to accuse Israel of war crimes,” per the RNC. (By the “other team,” he meant Palestinian Islamic Jihad.)

“If Biden is in Israel to support Israel, that is good,” wrote Mike Pompeo, a former U.S. secretary of state and former CIA director. “If he is there to pressure Israel to not wipe out Hamas, that is a very bad thing.”

We need concrete actions

Victoria Coates, vice president of national security and foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation, told JNS that some of Biden’s remarks in Israel are welcome. But his announcement of $100 million in new aid to Palestinians, including those in the Gaza Strip, is misguided.

“What we need now are concrete actions, not photo ops,” she said. “The president was all too eager to criticize Israel in the wake of the Gaza hospital explosion, instead of waiting until all the facts were known and pushing back strongly against those attacking Israel with the truth.”

And the announcement of the $100 million is “also unfortunate,” she said. “Given recent events, the president would have done better to freeze all support for the Palestinians until they renounce the savage terrorism that raged through Israel on Oct. 7.”

Biden’s support for Israel on the trip was laudable, though his call for Israel to constrain its military response against terrorism was not, according to Danielle Pletka, a distinguished senior fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“The interests of the United States are not the same as Israel,” Pletka told JNS. “The U.S. wants to avoid a second military front in the Middle East and minimize uproar in the Arab world.”

“Eventually, the United States will ratchet up more pressure against Israel,” she predicted. “What the Israelis must do is cover their ears and not let the United States dictate what they can and can’t do militarily against Hamas.”

‘Exactly the right tone’

The White House released a “what they are saying” roundup statement, which included praise for Biden’s visit to Israel from Jewish organizations, Israeli officials and commentators. Some who follow the region closely also told JNS that the visit was a success.

“Biden’s trip was heroic and positive,” Alan Dershowitz, a prominent lawyer, scholar and commentator, told JNS. “He set exactly the right tone, and he should be praised in a nonpartisan way because this is a nonpartisan issue.”

Jeffrey Herf, a distinguished university professor emeritus at the University of Maryland whose research focuses on the Holocaust and the Cold War, went as far as to call Biden “one of the most consequential and finest presidents since World War II.”

Biden “has offered the strongest support for Israel of any president since the state was founded in 1948,” Herf told JNS. “The support is moral, diplomatic and military. Biden’s trip to Israel expresses the fullness of his support.” (Herf thinks that Hamas seized an opportunity for which he blames Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “disastrous effort to undermine Israel’s democracy.”)

“Biden’s resolute stance has emboldened allies and stunned that part of world public opinion, which had grown accustomed to denouncing Israel,” Herf told JNS. (According to a Morning Consult poll, measuring Oct. 4 to Oct. 10, Biden’s global approval rating is 39%; his disapproval rating is 53%.)

Steven Windmueller, professor emeritus of Jewish communal studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, told JNS that the first instance of a sitting U.S. president visiting Israel during wartime indicates “overwhelming American support for Israel.”

“There is also a psychological side to this visit by President Biden,” he said. “It is encouraging to see a major power reaffirming its support for Israel.”

Windmueller praised the trip but said it remains to be seen what the short and long-term effects might be.

“The region is currently in disarray. In the short term, this trip may be seen as problematic in the Arab world,” he said. “Hopefully, in the long term, this visit will be successful in countering Iran and other factions in the region that are hostile to U.S. interests.”

Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, thinks that Biden’s wartime visit is “unique.” He also noted that the Biden administration reportedly refreezing the $6 billion that was to go to Iran is a positive development, and the U.S. carrier strike groups dispatched to the region offer a “strong symbol of deterrence.” 

“We must be clear that Israel is dealing with Nazi barbarity, where Hamas is keeping women and children hostages as pawns,” Romirowsky said. “The U.S. needs to make sure Israel can do what needs to be done.”

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