Why Joe Biden is Good for Israel

Israelis and Americans are heading to a much better future with Biden and Harris.
December 8, 2020
(Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

“I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” United States President-elect Joe Biden declared in April 2007, soon before Barack Obama chose him as vice president.

Thirteen years later, Biden’s views on Israel have become more nuanced but unchanged. “Israelis wake up every morning facing an existential threat from their neighbors’ rockets from Gaza, just like this past week,” he told over 18,000 Americans at the 2020 AIPAC Policy Conference. “That’s why I’ve always been adamant that Israel must be able to defend itself. It’s not just critical for Israeli security. I believe it’s critical for America’s security.” Palestinians, he added, “need to eradicate incitement on the West Bank and end the rocket attacks from Gaza…They need to accept once and for all the reality and the right of a secure democratic and Jewish state of Israel in the Middle East.”

For Biden, even attending the 2020 AIPAC conference took more guts than usual. The conference had been the subject of controversy among other Democratic candidates — Biden’s main competitors, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both boycotted the policy forum. When publicly announcing his boycott, Sanders even lamented AIPAC’s existence, saying that the organization creates a platform to “express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” Sanders’ surrogate, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, also stirred a frenzy when she claimed that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” and namechecked AIPAC as the source of Zionist bribery. Although Jewish institutions proclaimed Omar’s remarks were laced with anti-Semitic tropes, many on the left rushed to her defense. “Is AIPAC Too Powerful?” probed The New York Times, and The Nation outright declared, “What Ilhan Omar Said About AIPAC Was Right.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addressing the American Israel Public Affiars Committee’s annual policy conference March 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We are living in polarized times. President Trump has not made it easier for the global Jewish community. The divide between Israeli and American Jews only grew through his presidency: Many Israelis are fond of Trump, but over 75% of American Jews voted against him. And Trump’s support for Israel made it a more partisan issue than it should have been. In 2019, for example, American support for Israel fell to its lowest point in a decade (Republican support for Israel declined by 13% and Democratic support went down by six percent).

Trump did create some historic gains for Israel. The Abraham Accords, for example, were a positive step toward cementing Israel’s place in the world, symbolically breaking decades of deadlock and making more believe that peace is still possible. With Israelis now able to travel to the United Arab Emirates, there is room for cultural exchange, which will hopefully fight ignorance between Israel and the Arab world. Trump’s peace deals also revealed that despite Arab propaganda to never normalize relations with Israel, the shared threat of Iran is a force that can unify beyond indoctrination. That’s some accomplishment.

But despite the historic nature of the gifts Trump bestowed upon Israel, they have not carried as much impact on Israeli lives as he might have hoped. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights meant little in practice. Like many of Trump’s endeavors, symbolism was the point.

And the areas where Trump intended wholesale policy changes have yet to fully bear their fruit. The Abraham Accords, which were widely praised as a significant step forward, suffered a blow a few weeks ago when the Emirates, Sudan and Bahrain lambasted the Jewish state in the United Nations. And although Trump did propose a peace plan that right-wing Israelis liked, liberal Israelis and diaspora Jews were disappointed by it, and Palestinians saw it as a nonstarter, if not a slap in the face. To make matters worse, after cementing the Abraham Accords, Trump walked away from negotiations, leaving no real path towards a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. President-elect Biden has already committed to work for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Biden, however, has made it clear that he will rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran and lift sanctions only if Tehran returns to “strict compliance with the nuclear deal.” This might be the only point of Biden’s against which I must advocate. Although I am clearly an adherent supporter of President-elect Biden, I cannot get behind returning to the Iran Deal.

Even so, both Israelis and Americans are heading to a much better future with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. They will pursue a future in which meaty — rather than symbolic — negotiations can begin. Biden will be an American leader who is willing to work with all Israelis, rather than only working with those that align with his partisan base. And although Trump may market himself as a great dealmaker, in truth, it is Biden who has the diplomatic chops for this task through his work as vice president and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  It is Biden who understands the ethnoreligious roots of the conflict and the fact that the only “winner” in the conflict is peace.

Israelis and Americans are heading to a much better future with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris.

Despite how desperately Biden’s opponents seek to paint him as a puppet for the likes of Representative Rashida Tlaib — who recently took a Twitter jab at Biden’s secretary of state pick on Israeli policy — Biden supports normalization efforts and opposes BDS. Biden is not a “Squad” Democrat (remember when Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez announced that she and Biden shouldn’t even be in the same political party?). He also isn’t Barack Obama. If anything, Biden has a long-term respect, if not affection, for the Israeli people that resembles that of Bill Clinton.

We need responsible adults and stop foolishly clinging onto fantasies of unilateral support for Israel as if the Palestinians will just disappear. We need American leaders not to get in bed with partisan Israeli politicians who pressure Israelis to vote for them because “Uncle Sam said so.” We need leadership that will be able to say, as Biden did at AIPAC, that annexation will “choke off any hope for peace” and will take “Israel further from its democratic values, undermining support for Israel in the United States, especially among young people in both political parties, and that’s dangerous.” “We can’t let Israel become another issue that divides Republicans and Democrats,” he continued. “We can’t let anything undermine the partnership.”

Joe Biden loves Israel. Occasionally it will be tough love, but no less true.

Hen Mazzig is an Israeli writer, speaker and a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute. Follow him: @HenMazzig

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