Biden-Trump confidential papers is a cautionary tale for Israel - analysis

In recent years, cultural wars in the US have revolved around the makeup of the Court, just as the Court in Israel is now the faultline dividing this country. 

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday. (photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday.
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)

Social, political, cultural and economic trends that begin in the United States – goes an old saying – eventually get to Israel, just with a few years lag time.  

Examples abound: From music to fashion to political correctness to cuisine to styles of election campaigns. 7-Eleven convenience stores, for example, just opened a branch in Tel Aviv.

It’s instructive, therefore, to pay attention to what is going on in the US to gauge issues sure to pop up here in no time. 

Even the current fight here over judicial reform has antecedents in the US, where in recent years vacancies on the Supreme Court lead to pitched and ugly battles in the Senate over the confirmation of the president’s nominee – with Democrats opposing a Republican president’s, nominee, and Republicans opposing the nominee if the president is a Democrat. 

Then-US president Donald Trump’s nomination of conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett in September 2020, just two months before the elections, triggered calls to expand the nine-seat Supreme Court to 13 justices to ensure a liberal majority.

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett reacts as US President Donald Trump holds an event to announce her as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. September 26, 2020.  (credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett reacts as US President Donald Trump holds an event to announce her as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. September 26, 2020. (credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)

In April 2021, less than three months after being sworn into office, President Joe Biden even set up a bipartisan presidential commission to look into reforming the Court, including the Court’s role in the Constitutional system, the tenure of judges, the Court’s case selection, rules and practices, and the numbers of justices on the bench. The commission issued its 280-page report eight months later, but held off giving unequivocal recommendations on the hot-button issues. 

Not much has moved on the issue since then, even though the US Supreme Court decision last year overturning the constitutional right to abortion by a 6-3 vote brought back further calls to “pack the court”  by adding judges to bench. 

In addition, moves toward granting statehood to Washington DC are rooted in part in trying to ensure a Democratic majority in the Senate, which would all but ensure for the foreseeable future Supreme Court justices with a Democratic worldview.

The courts: The focus of US and Israeli divisions and culture war

In recent years, cultural wars in the US have revolved around the makeup of the Court, just as the Court in Israel is now the faultline dividing this country. 

Had Israelis been watching these battles play out in the US over the years, they would not have been surprised to see the same battles play out here as well. 

With that in mind, it is worth paying close attention to how the most recent political affair rocking Washington plays out – the one having to do with Biden’s handling of confidential documents. 

Since January 9 there has been a steady drip of reports emerging of classified documents showing up first in a Washington think-tank office used by Biden before he became president, as well as in his home and garage in Delaware.

The issue has taken on a solid partisan hue because of the noise made  – including the seizure of  – classified documents found in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. The Democrats made political hay over that issue, and the Republicans are doing the same over the confidential papers found on Biden’s premises

In the US the current debate about this, and its legal ramifications, revolves around intent: did either man intentionally remove the classified papers  – some 11,000 documents in dozens of boxes in Trump’s case, compared to what are believed to be about a dozen documents found in Biden’s home, garage and former office. Another issue is how the two men reacted immediately after finding out: Biden turned over the documents, while Trump stonewalled. 

The concern in the US is that whenever someone takes classified material out of the office and into their homes, there is always a risk that the documents could end up in the wrong hands and serve as a severe security breach. 

And what is true in the US is also true in Israel, where numerous ranking IDF officers, senior government officials and members of the security services have access to highly sensitive information. 

The case involving Anat Kamm and Uri Blau was the last high-profile case of classified information being taken out of an office and then leaked to a journalist. Kamm, a soldier at the time, took classified documents from the central command and leaked them after finishing her army stint to Blau, a reporter for Haaretz. She was convicted in 2011 and served 26 months in jail for espionage.

The case in the US should serve as a warning sign in Israel to pay close attention to the handling of classified documents. This is especially true during these volatile political times, when there is a revolving door of governments, ministers, and senior civil servants. During such times there needs to be added vigilance and a strict accounting of who has access to what material, and how it is protected. 

What happens in the US does not stay in the US, and so often eventually happens here as well. Israel should look at the current classified document brouhaha in the US as a cautionary tale, and not just brush it off as something that does not affect us – because eventually, something quite similar could happen here.