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OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

The president’s Jewish problem

It is becoming increasingly clear that while Senator Biden and Vice President Biden may have been friends of Israel, President Biden is caving to the extremes of his party.

U.S. President Joe Biden at the Israeli President's Residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
U.S. President Joe Biden at the Israeli President's Residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Harry Paul. Credit: Courtesy.
Harry Paul

Another week, another progressive Democrat slanders the Jewish state. In comments made at the Netroots Nation conference in Baltimore from July 11-13, chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) falsely labeled Israel as a “racist state.”

In the days since her remark, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), joined by Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) and vice chair Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) put out a joint statement where they rejected Jayapal’s comment and proclaimed Israel to be “a Jewish and Democratic nation … founded on the principle of complete equality,” and reaffirmed their determination “to make sure support for Israel in the Congress remains strongly bipartisan.” Fellow Democrat Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who is perhaps the most ardent supporter of Israel in Congress, also strongly rejected Jayapal’s comments and “set the record straight about Israel as a multiracial democracy.” Eventually, Jayapal walked back her claim of Israel being a racist nation, though seemed to stand by her belief that the government may be.

One very powerful Democrat who has not said anything is U.S. President Joe Biden.

Israel and the Jewish people made major headlines this week as Biden readied for Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s trip to the White House. Add that to the snub of not inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and listening to Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on video making claims that COVID was developed to spare Ashkenazi Jews. RFK Jr.’s comments have been widely condemned by Democrats, but not by his 2024 opponent, the sitting president.

Biden’s long political career has enabled him to meet with nearly every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir; perhaps his most famous meeting with an Israeli leader came in 1982. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing over the Lebanon War and Israeli settlements in their rightful land that they secured in the 1967 Six-Day War, then-Sen. Biden got into a verbal spar with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. At a time when Israel was much more reliant on U.S. aid than it is now, it was rather profound when Begin stood up to the committee and proclaimed that:

“I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and overs. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.”

Decades after this tense confrontation, as vice president, Biden included Begin in his list of “the greatest generations of founding fathers and mothers of any nation,” alongside David Ben-Gurion, Meir, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Following his confrontation with Begin, Biden made it known that his support of Israel was iron-clad, and as second in charge, at an Israeli Independence Day party, he announced his admiration of the Jewish state. He proclaimed “the most admirable thing about [Israel] is you have never asked us to fight for you. But I promise you, if you were attacked and overwhelmed, we would fight for you, in my view.”

Where has that Biden gone?

He once declared that in his position as vice president, he was “proud to carry forward the unbroken line of American leaders who have honored America’s sacred promise to protect the homeland of the Jewish people.” It is becoming increasingly clear that while Sen. Biden and Vice President Biden may have been friends of Israel, President Biden is caving to the extremes of his party. His refusal to condemn Jayapal’s comments is a slap in the face to the multiracial facets of Judaism and Israel.

And while Biden invited Herzog to the White House, Netanyahu received merely a phone call. It wasn’t until hours before Herzog’s visit that Netanyahu reportedly received a more formal invitation. Despite Biden’s insistence in March that an offer would not be extended to Netanyahu “in the near term,” Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said that Netanyahu will be headed to the White House in September. The White House has confirmed that the two will meet, but despite Hanegbi’s statement, a time has not been confirmed.

In his call with Netanyahu, Biden expressed his opposition to the settlements and proposed judicial overhaul. It is expected that world leaders, even allies, will have disagreements, but it is imperative to note that a sitting U.S. president should not make an ally’s existence conditional, which is what Biden’s recent actions towards anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric have shown. Biden admonishing Netanyahu for Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is an attempt to redraw Israel’s borders, a move that would never be taken with any other sovereign nation. As for judicial overhaul, it’s not the place of the U.S. president to dictate to another democratically elected leader how to run their country. Regardless of the policy choices made by Netanyahu’s coalition or Biden’s personal relationship with him, Israel is not only our strongest ally but our most well-positioned one as the sole democracy in the region.

In Herzog’s address to Congress, he admired the connection between America and Israel, relishing in “how far we have all come, together” and that “we are proud to be the United States’ closest partner and friend.” The Herzog family is deeply ingrained in the history of Israel with Isaac’s father, Chaim Herzog, serving as president from 1983-1993. Chaim’s father, Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog, was invited to meet President Harry S. Truman in the White House in 1949. In that meeting, the rabbi thanked Truman for being the first leader to recognize the State of Israel. In essence, America was the first friend of the Jewish nation.

Herzog’s speech this week continued with how far Israel has come since then, praising the country for building a “national home which became a beautiful Israeli democracy, a mosaic of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians; secular, traditional and Orthodox; of all denominations, and all possible views and lifestyles. A land which welcomed the ingathering of exiles from 100 different countries.” Without mentioning them by name, Herzog’s speech was a strong rebuke of the lies being spread by Democrat politicians in recent days.

Furthermore, he praised the Abraham Accords signed under the Trump administration, as well as America’s role as peace-broker between Israel and historically hostile Middle Eastern countries. Herzog continues on his hopes for peace as he expresses a “deep yearning to one day make peace with our Palestinian neighbors.” The majority of the speech contains a profound optimism for the future of Israel, its relationship with the United States and the continued quest for peace with its Arab neighbors. He then pivoted his focus to antisemitism. He says he is “not oblivious to criticism among friends, including some expressed by respected members of this House,” but that “criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the State of Israel’s right to exist. Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism.”

Far too often, the extremes of the Democratic Party seek to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. It is a shame members such as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who have made their careers on lying about Israel, were among members who did not show up to listen to Herzog. It would behoove them to attend his next address to Congress, as a vote the following day passed 412-9-1, declaring that the House does not believe Israel is a racist state.

Biden has been involved in the highest levels of American politics long enough to witness the growth and prosperity of Jewish state, which is what makes his silence all the more insulting. It seems evident that either his support for the Jewish state and Jewish people has reversed course, or that he is too weak to condemn antisemitic and anti-Israel hate at the behest of the Progressive Caucus.

Biden is not being asked to be Israel’s biggest cheerleader, but he is expected to condemn antisemitism, especially when it is being uttered by members of his own party and right after the announced national strategy to counter it. Jayapal’s comments were a good test for Biden’s newly unveiled plan, but so far, he has failed. Regardless of Biden’s reasons for being silent, it’s clear that the Jewish people need a new friend in the White House.

Harry A. Paul is a graduate of Oglethorpe University with a bachelor’s degree in politics. He currently works in political fundraising in Denver.

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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