“Today,” says Joe Biden, “I am a fountain pen.”
Yes, that proverbial bar mitzvah gift that Jews once gave male children upon their reaching manhood in America. A curious present for a rite of passage.
Those were more meager days, before bar or bat mitzvahs featured the likes of Drake, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber or Nicki Minaj—as the entertainment!
Today, fountain pens are like chopped liver. Even an iPad is a crappy gift.
President Biden just completed his 10th trip to Israel, having, since 1973, met with 11 Israeli prime ministers (this trip also included the two prior prime ministers, the current president and defense minister). That easily rounds off to 13, such that if he had wanted to, the president could have had a bar mitzvah in the Holy Land. (Perhaps not officially, but all three of his children married Jews. He already enjoys familial privileges within the tribe.)
And Israelis lavished the president with a warmth not easily generated by hardened Sabras. For 46 hours he was feted not just as a foreign dignitary from Israel’s best friend, but also as mishpocha from Delaware. The planned protocol for the entire overseas jaunt was to greet fellow statesmen with fist bumps. That’s precisely what the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and other Arab leaders received in Jeddah. In Israel, however, the president dispensed with social distancing, grabbed faces and pulled cheeks like a regular Biden bubbe.
The members of “the Squad,” and their rabbi, Bernie Sanders, collectively threw up. Progressive Democrats can shriek “apartheid state” all they want, but apparently Jerusalem is Biden’s Mecca.
Of course, this is ironic. It was, in fact, then Vice-President Joe Biden who was at the center of a Middle Eastern maelstrom in 2010. Biden landed in Israel just as its Housing Minister approved the expansion of an existing settlement in eastern Jerusalem. President Obama had called for a 10-month freeze on new construction, hoping to entice Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The 10 months elapsed without even a phone call.
The timing was terrible. Biden was on the tarmac while construction recommenced. Obama took it as a personal insult.
The incident inflamed what was already a frosty relationship between Obama and then Prime Minister Netanyahu. Obama’s signature foreign policy legacy was a disastrous “deal” to jettison Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu, and nearly all Israelis, perceived any negotiation with Iran and its map-erasing mullahs as an existential threat.
Republicans invited the Israeli prime minister to address a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu wanted to take his case in opposition to the deal directly to the American people. Unfortunately, he did so without consulting the White House (not that they would have given him approval).
Unimaginably, things got even worse from there. Obama’s foreign policy coda was a bombshell of betrayal: The United States abstained from vetoing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which deemed all Israeli settlements to be illegal, declared any land captured during the Six-Day War as officially “occupied” and failed to condemn Palestinian violence.
Without the United States as backstop, the resolution passed. It’s not possible to overstate how much comfort this provided Israel’s enemies. It also doubtlessly jumpstarted the nascent Squad, inserted daylight into Israel’s special relationship with the United States, ruptured the once bipartisan pro-Israel consensus and opened the door for Donald Trump to smash all Middle East pieties: from moving America’s embassy to Jerusalem to the signing of the Abraham Accords.
Biden has never answered for Resolution 2334, nor do we know whether he objected to it. That’s one of the reasons why his return to Israel had so much emotional resonance and geopolitical significance.
Israelis want to know: “Do you love us, Joe, or do you love the Squad? Because you can’t love both.”
It’s a fair question. So far, Biden has somersaulted to appease the Social Democrats in his party—by supporting green energy, open borders, critical race theory and nonbinary gender identity. Yet these are the same people who openly declare Israel to be a settler-colonial enterprise, with Jews having no historical or ancestral connection to the region.
All that Catholic schooling in Scranton, Pennsylvania—along with the influence of his Jewish relatives—obviously equips Biden to distinguish between the Bible and libel. His former boss, President Obama, believed that the moral claim for Israel lies in the Holocaust, as if Jewish statehood amounted to reparations, with no other justification. Biden surely has a better grasp of history.
Yet, President Biden tapped the same advisers responsible for the Iran deal to fashion his own foreign policy. Sitting on the sidelines, they were none too pleased to see their handiwork dissolve under Trump. They now have a second chance to place Israel’s national security in jeopardy.
So far, thankfully, Biden has not rushed into anything. With any luck, no deal will emerge and sanctions on Iran will remain. Blinken, Sullivan and Malley might end up as Persian rug merchants rather than as apologists.
Iran actually informed much of Biden’s trip. Israeli leaders made it plain that Iran’s enriching of weapons-grade uranium should be met with force rather than diplomacy. Many of the Gulf states feel similarly, an essential accord that, ultimately, led to the Abraham Accords.
Meanwhile, Biden traveled directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, which presented a caravan of diplomatic possibilities. Yes, the ostensible reason for his visit was a crudely transparent plea for crude. Back home, Biden faces declining gas reserves and an anxious public fuming at the pump. But in flying through airspace once closed to Israeli commercial carriers, President Biden brought the kingdom and Israel closer to normalizing their relationship, perhaps adding the Saudis to the Abraham Accords.
These new alignments, where the common enemy is Iran and the Palestinians are no longer an obstacle to Jewish-Muslim relations, have opened a fresh start for everyone. President Biden would do well to be on the right side of those Accords, and not get stuck in the quicksand of a “two-state solution” that the Palestinians have consistently rejected.
And as for that pen, Joe: Don’t use it to sign anything in Persian.
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His latest work, “Saving Free Speech … from Itself,” was just published. He can be reached via his website.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.