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Israel Will Be Happy With President Biden

It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  
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August 10, 2020
Photo by Getty Images

On Aug. 9, The New York Times published an article I wrote about Israel and the U.S. presidential race. The bottom line was this mixed message:

As far as Israelis are concerned, Joe Biden has two disadvantages. He is not Donald Trump and he is a Democrat. He is not the candidate they support and he comes from the party many of them distrust. Biden could provide an opportunity for Israel to reemerge as a truly bipartisan cause in America. Biden is a self-proclaimed Zionist and a longtime supporter of Israel who is familiar with both the issues and the main players, and who instinctively understands the country’s security concerns.

My Times articles usually draw a large volume of comments and I often use the Jewish Journal to respond, so here are some of my responses to comments on my latest opinion piece:

Jake Donnelly asked: “Is the ‘for a Democrat’ bar really that low?”

I end my article stating that Biden is as good as Israel can hope for when it comes to a Democratic candidate. Donnelly is right. The “bar” I use for Biden is lower than one I’d want in an ideal world. But we do not live in an ideal world. We have reality to contend with. This reality means that from an Israeli perspective, Biden is as good as it gets, if Israel can pass the uneasy test of having to handle a Democrat.

Abraham Reznick wrote: “The best president for Israel is the best president for America. Full stop.” 

In an ideal situation, that would be true. In reality, one’s idea of the “best president for America” depends on one’s ideological tendencies. The same is true for “best for Israel.” So, we end up having debates about both. In my experience, when someone says what is best for America is also best for Israel, this usually means that he or she intends to vote for the candidate whom Israelis aren’t going to see as the best for them. Of course, no American is under any obligation to vote for what’s best for Israel. On the other hand, no Israeli is under obligation to pretend that unfriendly American politicians are in fact good for Israel (just because some Americans believe they are best for America). 

Evgeny Cherpak wrote: “The problem with Biden is … his VP choice.”

He has a point. In fact, many readers joined him in saying the vice president could change my outlook on the matter, and they were especially concerned about the prospect of Biden choosing Susan Rice. (@udekel tweeted: “The problem isn’t going to be President Biden as much as it is going to be Acting President Rice.”) 

I agree. A problematic vice presidential pick could somewhat change my outlook. So why did I not mention it in the article? Because the choice hadn’t been made when I wrote it, and because the article looked at Biden as a challenge and an opportunity. Also, it’s impossible to cover all angles in one article. And yet, the point is well taken: Considering Biden’s age, the vice presidential pick matters. Rice has a history of confrontation with Israel. 

Jim Recht tweeted: “As an American Jew, I find this opinion piece obscene. Its implicit assumption is that we will debate U.S. policy toward Israel overlooking … Israel’s crimes against humanity. Enough!”

That’s why I think Biden is much better than the alternatives. It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  

Daniel Ehrenreich wrote: “As a conservative voting for Biden, your gushpanka means a lot.” 

Gushpanka means a seal of approval. I have no authority to give any candidate a seal of approval. So, let me make it clear: On Israeli matters per se, Trump is the better choice. But the choice is not between a friend and an enemy. It is a choice between two friends. Biden is a friend.

The choice of Kamala Harris

I am calm again. Of all the realistic potential Democratic presidential candidates, Biden was Israel’s choice. Of all the realistic potential Democratic vice presidential candidates, Sen. Kamala Harris of California was Israel’s choice.

Biden picked her. Good for him. Good for her. And until proven otherwise, good for Israel, because, like Biden, she is neither an ideologue nor a dreamer. She understands that under certain circumstances there is a need to use force and therefore would be open to the option that Israel occasionally must use force.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) once tweeted that Harris’ meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meant that Harris is no longer “part of the resistance to racism against all people.”

That’s another reason for Israelis to be pleased. Not because Tlaib would be unhappy but because Harris was never a part of a group or a movement that targeted Israel as a symbol of misbehavior. She is not a member of “the squad” or any other radical group pretending to be a serious political entity. Surely, she will not always agree with Israel. But to disagree with her would feel like disagreeing with an ally — not a foe.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

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