Former US president Donald Trump accused American Jewry of disloyalty to Israel on several occasions for not being more supportive of him, despite all the good he did for Israel.
The good Trump did for Israel includes recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US Embassy there, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Height, and forging the Abraham Accords.
Current US President Joe Biden last week essentially accused Israel – as represented by the current government – of disloyalty to American Jews.
How so? By evoking the American Jewish community when making his extraordinary statement about Israel’s judicial reform debate and saying he has no intention “in the near term” of inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House.
Asked by reporters how concerned he was about the health of Israel’s democracy, Biden said, “Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned. And I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road. And I’ve sort of made that clear. Hopefully, the prime minister will act in a way that he is going to try to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen.”
When asked to respond to those who say that America shouldn’t be involved or interfering in domestic Israeli policies, Biden replied: “We’re not interfering. They know my position. They know America’s position. They know the American Jewish position.”
“We’re not interfering. They know my position. They know America’s position. They know the American Jewish position.”Joe Biden
Biden invokes the name of American Jewry to interfere in Israeli politics
There it was: a US president invoking the name of the American Jewish community in justifying blatant interference in an Israeli domestic issue. Israel, he said, knows the American Jewish position against the judicial overhaul. If the government is pursuing the reform anyhow against the wishes of the American Jewish community, then it is a form of Israeli disloyalty to the Diaspora.
One may believe – as many against the reform both in Israel and the US do – that it is good and even necessary for the US to interfere, and that Israel needs Uncle Sam to save itself from itself. But what is undeniable – despite Biden’s protestations to the contrary – is that Washington is taking a clear side in a debate that has ripped the Jewish state apart and opened old wounds.
When the American president says “they cannot continue down this road,” and immediately afterward makes clear he is not inviting the Israeli prime minister to the White House, he is interfering and trying to affect policy. And he should realize that this is not only an issue affecting the judiciary, but is also a charged political issue as well as a deeply emotional one.
Biden is not just wading into the shallow waters of how Israel selects its Supreme Court, but rather swimming into the deep waters of identity politics: secular vs haredi; elites vs less privileged, Ashkenazi vs Mizrahi.
When will Netanyahu get an invitation? When his policies align with what Biden thinks they should be.
AGAIN, ONE may welcome this and think it a positive development. But there are two things to keep in mind.
First, this spotlights the glaring disparity in the US-Israel relationship.
Remember the “how-dare-he” brouhaha caused when Netanyahu was accused of interfering in US politics by seemingly appearing to favor Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race? The irritation that caused in some circles in the US paled in comparison to the anger that still lingers among some Democrats at Netanyahu for speaking to a joint session of Congress in 2015 against the Iranian nuclear deal and trying to impact US domestic opinion on that matter.
Washington’s interference now in Israeli policy – despite its anger then at Israel’s interference in American affairs – is further proof that the US is the US, the most powerful nation in the world upon which Israel still heavily relies, and Israel is Israel, still a small country in the Mideast in need of a powerful ally. What is permitted to the US – blatant interference in Israeli domestic affairs – is not allowed to Israel: blatant interference in American domestic matters.
The second thing to keep in mind is that if US interference now is justified using the argument that all America is trying to do is save Israel from itself, then that same argument can be used in the future as well to force Israel’s hands on issues that have far-reaching security consequences for Israelis: such as compelling Jerusalem to make territorial concessions to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state.
If it is okay for the US to interfere regarding the judicial overhaul to save Israel’s soul, then why not when it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians?
What made Biden’s remarks even more extraordinary was that they were made with the US about to enter the maelstrom of a presidential election. Even though the 2024 presidential election is still some 20 months away, posturing, positioning and fundraising are already beginning in earnest.
Generally, presidents want to take on the Israeli government in the first half of their term if they are up for reelection, not the second half when the elections are just around the corner. Because who wants to anger the American Jewish community – with its voters centered in some swing states like Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania and whose members contribute a disproportionate amount of money to political campaigns – by picking a fight with the Israeli government? Historically this has been viewed as politically unwise.
But by evoking the name of the American Jewish community in his statement, Biden made clear that he thinks that taking on Netanyahu at this time will not only not hurt him politically with US Jews, but it may actually help him.
Based on what he is hearing from the American Jewish community, Biden’s reading is that his stand on this matter corresponds to what America’s Jews – a not insignificant part of his constituency and donor base – want. Biden apparently believes that taking Netanyahu on over this issue is not a liability in trying to win over US Jews, but could actually be an asset.
And that is new, unchartered water. When was the last time a candidate thought he could win points with American Jewry, not lose them, by snubbing the Israeli prime minister and publicly opposing his policies?