Will Joe Biden be the last Democratic president of the United States to strongly back Israel? It is the question that many Jews and Israelis will be asking themselves right now. Given the crucial importance that the alliance with the U.S. has for Israel, the answer entails important strategic decisions.
Outwardly, Biden’s handling of the situation is impeccable. In fact, more than impeccable: he was the first American president to travel to Israel in times of war. In his statements, Biden has repeatedly and categorically expressed his support for the Israeli military operation, refraining from mentioning the possibility of a ceasefire and only timidly conceding that Israel must take Gaza’s humanitarian needs into account. Meanwhile, the White House has publicized the fact that it is sending military material and advisors to Israel. To top it off, Biden has ordered the deployment of two fleets to the region to deter Hezbollah and Iran from a possible surprise attack while Israel is focused on eliminating Hamas in Gaza. Basically, Biden has committed the assistance of American ships and fighters in the event of a direct and large-scale entry by Hezbollah or Iran into the conflict.
Privately, Biden’s efforts are more complex than they might seem at first glance. To begin with, while he reiterates to the media Israel’s right to defend itself, in his closed-door meetings and in telephone conversations with the Israeli government he states very different things. In these discreet communications, Biden has pushed to delay or cancel the ground offensive in Gaza. In turn, American military advisors have tried to dissuade their Israeli colleagues from a ground operation by pointing out all its disadvantages. Finally, the White House has leaked to the press the adverse opinions of analysts and generals of the U.S. government to an invasion of Gaza. Biden, in short, rather than a carte blanche, is giving Netanyahu a bear hug.
However, all this is part of the usual tensions between American presidents and Israel. Washington has never offered unwavering support to Israel's military operations. Angry debates between Israelis and Americans have been common in times of crisis. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon was a headache for Ronald Reagan, just as the Second Intifada was for George W. Bush. The United States has always pressured Israel to limit the ambition of its military plans, shorten their duration, and limit their scope and intensity.
The issue is not so much Biden’s dual role in this conflict, but rather the reaction to it by associations, politicians and organizations in the United States. It is at this point where one perceives most clearly that the winds are changing. If you look at the demonstrations, this is the first time that hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of the United States to unequivocally (and exclusively) support Palestine (and, indirectly, Hamas). There are around five million Muslims in the United States. It is the fastest growing religion in the country, and the number of believers will double in the coming decades. The presence of Arabs and Muslims in roles of power and in the media is increasingly common. Also in the movie industry: last year Disney presented the TV miniseries with a Muslim superheroine, Ms. Marvel. This is a recent trend. Also of note is the fact that several Iranian and Arab lobbies have consolidated their position in Washington in competition with Jewish ones.
But the presence of Muslims, or the better organization of the Arab community, are not enough to explain the massive demonstrations in (tacit) support for the actions of Hamas. The truth is that the American left (especially its younger members) is experiencing a shift on this issue. We have the manifesto signed by more than 33 student associations at Harvard that blames Israel for the massacre of October 7. Despite the controversy that ensued, both the Harvard presidency and the school deans remained silent. The demonstrations, rallies and statements in favor of Palestine soon spread across the campuses of Columbia, Arizona, Indiana, California, Chapel Hill... The most striking thing is that in the slogans and manifestos there was no minimal consideration for the Israeli victims, while the slogans supporting the Palestinians were of a radical nature until now associated with Islamist groups, terrorists and regimes such as the Iranian one: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” The implication of this statement is that one is no longer advocating for the existence of two states and for the coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis. By shouting it, one advocates the establishment of a single Palestinian state that will end the existence of the state of Israel and lead to the expulsion of the Jews. By hanging posters praising the Hamas terrorist attack, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has not lagged behind in embracing extremism in the face of the crisis in Israel. In the posters of the BLM movement, Hamas terrorists are presented as freedom fighters, and their attacks as exploits.
In Washington, 411 Capitol Hill staffers signed an open letter denouncing the pro-Israel attitude of congressmembers (their bosses). They stated that “as the children of survivors of slavery, the Holocaust, colonialism, war and oppression, we feel compelled to raise our voices in this moment.” At the State Department, Secretary Antony Blinken has been forced to calm officials after the resignation of a senior official in protest of Biden’s pro-Israel policy. It was feared that dozens of department officials were preparing a letter to make public their disagreement with the administration’s policy. Something similar has happened in the White House itself, where Jake Sullivan was forced to summon the National Security Council staff to a meeting, described as “tense,” to calm things down and respond to complaints. The White House has also organized “listening sessions” in which Muslim and/or Arab officials can express their frustrations with the administration’s policy and propose alternatives. Finally, we must not forget the presence of The Squad in the House of Representatives. Composed of eight congressmembers led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (the last two are Muslims), the Squad is still a radical and minority faction within the Democratic Party. But it is striking that the party leaders and their more moderate colleagues systematically refrain from openly confronting the Squadron’s radical positions. They know that the party’s bases, and especially its younger members, sympathize with the attitude of said group.
Biden and the current Democratic administration are continuing the pattern established since the presidency of John F. Kennedy, but those who will one day take over from them show a very different attitude. Universities, the breeding ground for future political, economic and cultural elites, have been revealed as factories for left-wing extremists. The issue of Israel and Palestine was not going to be an exception to this indoctrination. In the not-too-distant future, it is not unthinkable to imagine a Democratic administration that is not only more lukewarm in its support for Israel, but perhaps even decidedly pro-Palestinian.
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