(July 12, 2020 / JNS) A pro-Israel friend of mine told me that he wished AIPAC would publish an unbiased list comparing the policy differences between former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. President Donald Trump in regard to Israel. It was refreshing to hear in our current political climate someone who wanted to objectively analyze past actions and future policy positions of the candidates, as well as looking at their current foreign-policy advisers and associates.
In the minefield of American politics, trying to look at the facts in context and draw conclusions is almost impossible, as ad hominem attacks rule the day—unfortunately, many of them justified.
Trump haters see a president who is a narcissistic and racial divider, lacking intellectual depth and with a willful aversion to the truth. To others, Biden represents a person who has lost his cognitive abilities and is completely under the sway of the anti-Israel progressive wing of his party. Those progressives want to tear down America and create a Socialist republic that redistributes wealth; they call for reparations; and promote a victimhood mentality that allows Palestinians to remain as perpetual victims, while viewing Israel as a colonialist enterprise that should be sent to the scrapheap of racist regimes.
Now that I have your attention and have raised your blood pressure, let’s try, without contempt or bile, to compare what Trump and Biden have said and done concerning Israel and American Jews. The list is not exhaustive, but it should stimulate your intellectual curiosity and motivate you to Google for more answers.
Critics of Trump claim that he is the icon of white supremacists who hate Jews, dog-whistling anti-Semitic tropes that only they can hear. Biden will often cite Trump’s divisive words in at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., that exhibited anti-Jewish vitriol as the best example. Some claim that those words were taken out of context.
Supporters of Trump will claim that he is the most pro-Israel President in history, sanctioning the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, cutting off funds to UNWRA for perpetuating a false narrative that descendants of Palestinian refugees are entitled to go into Israel, penalizing the Palestinian Authority for incentivizing terrorism, and acknowledging that Israel has international legal rights over the 1967 line, allowing it to extend sovereignty into the West Bank.
For clarity, Israel truly annexed the Golan Heights because it had a previous legitimate stakeholder, Syria, whereas Israel cannot technically annex anything in the West Bank because the last legal entity, the Ottoman Empire, does not exist anymore. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter memorializes Israel’s rights in the West Bank, so the proper term would be extending sovereignty, rather than annexation. The wisdom of exercising those rights is subject to a legitimate debate between Trump and Biden supporters.
Critics of Trump claim that his one-sided actions against the Palestinians have made a two states for two people’s resolution of the conflict almost impossible. An icon of J Street and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Peter Beinart, went so far as to write a New York Times opinion piece titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” Critics claim that Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast plan grants Israel land in the West Bank, and would turn Israel into an apartheid and undemocratic state undeserving of American support. There is a new Democrat House letter demanding the end of funding for Israel in response to its “annexation.”
Trump supporters claim that Biden, despite Iranian transgressions of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, intends to rejoin that fatally flawed agreement, which endangers both U.S. and Israeli national security interests. Made under the Obama administration, it willfully ignored Iran’s increased human-rights abuses against its citizens, its missile development and its support of global terrorism (particularly against the Jewish state), while enriching the Islamic Republic with billions in sanctions relief.
Biden supporters claim that the JCPOA was a good, if imperfect, agreement that ended the ability of Iran to ever have a nuclear weapon. Critics claim that the deal is actually a pathway to an Iranian nuclear weapon, legitimizing their possession to a terrorist regime that has called time and again for the annihilation of America and Israel, as they have to wait only a few years for the deal’s nuclear prohibitions to expire.
Biden supporters acclaim the Obama passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, which stated that Israel would be in flagrant violation of international law if it keeps possession of any land over the 67 Line, as advancing peace and a two-state solution because it forces Israel to negotiate based on the 1967 line, which is the Palestinian position. Critics claim this hurts Israel’s security by undermining UNSC Resolution 242, which recognized Israel’s 1967 defensive line as unacceptably vulnerable to its neighbors who have repeatedly launched wars against them, acknowledging that Israel can never go back to that indefensible position.
Biden supporters claim that he and President Barack Obama were very pro-Israel, as evidenced by the largest financial-aid package ever given to Israel, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) worth more than $30 billion during the course of 10 years. They also say that Biden was supportive of additional aid to help Israel with its anti-missile system. Critics say that the amount of the MOU was actually reduced as punishment for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going to Congress against Obama’s wishes to fight against the Iran deal—the Obama administration’s prized foreign-policy legacy. Advocates of military aid to Israel point out that almost all the money given to Israel for defense spending goes to American contractors, thereby helping the U.S. economy, and that this is a two-way street, as Israeli soldiers are arguably doing our work for us, being our only reliable ally in a region of fickle dictatorships.
Trump supporters say that if you want to look at where Biden is going on Israel, you only have to look at the head of his foreign-policy transition team, Avril Haines. She signed a J Street letter critical of Israel advocating for a more “balanced” position in the Democratic Convention Platform, treating Israel and Palestinians equally, and would not be “silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Biden supporters say that if you want to know who Joe is, just look at his statements at AIPAC conventions over the last 30 years, and the pro-Israel letters and legislation that he has signed onto. In 2016, he said, “Israel will always exist strong and capable as the ultimate guarantor of security for Jewish people around the world. That is the abiding moral obligation we have.” Biden supporters claim that Trump crossed the line when he claimed that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal. Biden responded, “Mr. President, these comments are insulting and inexcusable … . It may not be beneath you, but it is beneath the office you hold.”
Trump supporters claim that the charge that he is anti-Semitic is ludicrous, as his grandchildren and daughter are Orthodox Jews. His executive action protecting Jewish students on college campuses from harassment and intimidation for expressing their pro-Israeli advocacy is now protected under the Civil Rights Act and applauded by pro-Israel supporters, but condemned as a violation of free speech by progressives who support Biden. According to AMCHA—an organization that battles campus anti-Semitism—the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition equating anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism has seen a 300 percent increase in challenging that definition, something that has been incorporated into the Trump strategy to fight anti-Semitism.
In America today, getting anyone to appreciate or respect different policies and opinions is a lost cause. The visceral reaction to Trump is palpable, and his rhetoric does him no favors. For others, Biden is no different from the progressive anti-Israel “Squad” in Congress, and his articulation problems do him no favors. Biden’s much-anticipated choice of a vice-presidential candidate will be venerated on the left and excoriated on the right.
American Jews vote overwhelmingly Democrat, and for many, Trump’s divisive actions have made this an easy choice. For a minority of American Jews, Biden may be a good man, but has lost his way on Israel and would be a dangerous choice for its long-term security. His stated policy to rejoin the Iran deal poses a serious threat to Israel, and his views on the Palestinians and international law are naive at best, and dangerous at worst.
America will survive Trump or Biden. But for the minority of American Jews who have Israel as one of their top-five policy issues in voting for a president, would Biden or Trump be a better choice to enhance U.S.-Israeli relations? Or would one of them actually endanger Israel by his policy decisions?
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”
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