(JNS) The first days of any new job are difficult, but critical—for the president of the United States more than for anyone else on the planet, perhaps. This particularly applies to newly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden.
The concept of a president’s “first 100 days” was coined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who entered office during a time of crisis in America, when there was division and pain, and the country sought solutions and healing. Since then, the first 100 days of a presidential term has taken on symbolic significance, and the period is considered a benchmark to measure the early success of a president.
President Biden has had a long relationship with the Jewish community and Israel. Since his first trip there in 1973, he has stated time and again his commitment to Israel’s security. He has stood up against BDS policies, supported initiatives like the Iron Dome missile-defense system and campaigned with a pledge to “guarantee that Israel will always maintain its qualitative military edge.”
He now has a challenge—which is also an opportunity—to gain the trust of Israel and its supporters. He can do this if he is careful at the start to demonstrate that he understands and respects the need for Israel’s security.
On June 5, 2012, I had the honor of attending a meeting in the White House with President Barack Obama and some of the major leaders of the Jewish community. The meeting arose out of issues between the pro-Israel Jewish community and the president during the first few years of his administration. Many of his policies and actions seemed to pressure Israel in an unproductive way. We attended the meeting with the hope that it could open up a productive dialogue.
One of the amazing moments was when then-RCA president Rabbi Shmuel Goldin said to Obama: “We are here because 70 years ago Jews couldn’t get in through the front door of the White House,” alluding to the lack of reception to Jews lobbying to stop the Holocaust. Obama retorted: “70 years ago, neither of us would have been sitting in this room.”
It was a sobering and powerful moment, at a time when both the Jewish community and the African-American community found solace in how far we had come.
Following this critical meeting, things did, in fact, begin to brighten in the relationship between Obama and the pro-Israel community. He appointed the first full-time White House Jewish Liaison, Jarrod Bernstein, who was excellent at building relationships within the Jewish community.
Unfortunately, however, within a few years, Obama agreed to what many feel has been a disastrous deal with the ayatollahs in Iran over their nuclear enrichment. In addition to endangering Israel and the stability of the Middle East, it reversed much of the work that had been done to improve that relationship.
The pro-Israel Jewish community is constantly looking for two things: trust and action, the key ingredients of a working relationship between Israel and the U.S. The Obama administration did not build its trust with Israel early on, which led to a lack of confidence in any initiative that the U.S. government proposed.
While working to mend the trust fence with Israel, the U.S. agreed to a nuclear-enrichment deal with Iran that Israel—and every Arab neighbor of Iran—opposed. The fact that Iran’s leaders publicly continued to threaten to “finish Hitler’s job” by wiping Israel off the map did not seem to have an impact on the policies that the public was told were in pursuit of peace. By the time the Obama administration had gained trust, it failed vis-à-vis action.
The administration of now-former U.S. President Donald Trump worked hard and with the intent to build trust with Israel and take action from the beginning of his tenure. There was rhetoric in the early days about moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And then action was taken.
We saw overtures made but also experienced Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, Avi Berkowitz, David Friedman, Aryeh Lightstone and others work tirelessly at establishing real ties of substance between Israel and many Arab countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. There were also new policies and decisions that demonstrated a deep understanding of the threat to Israel (and the rest of the region) from Iran.
While Biden has fundamental disagreements with the Trump administration, he certainly must recognize what they have in common is defining a successful strategy to achieve broad peace agreements among many nations in the Middle East. The president has a historic opportunity to continue to pursue a peaceful Middle East and build on the accomplishments of the last four years.
The 1800 election between President John Adams and his successor, President Thomas Jefferson reached a level of personal animosity seldom equaled in American politics, and the former did not attend the inauguration of the latter. (Former friends, the two would maintain a hostile silence for 12 years before resuming correspondence.)
While Jefferson disagreed with many of Adams’s world views and changed policies accordingly, he still had the temerity and courage to continue those policies that were proven to work.
Biden must recognize that the majority of the Arab world and Israel are unified in opposing the Iran deal. The majority of the Arab world and Israel are unified. What a miraculous statement that reflects just how unanimous and deep the threat from Iran truly is. The world knows that Iran is the leading global state sponsor of terrorism.
A few weeks ago, American Emad Shargi was sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian prison for espionage—without a trial. Are these the actions of a peace partner?
Biden’s campaign site states that sanctions were working against Iran and we must return to them. Only through economic pain, however, can Iran be brought to rein in its support of terror around the globe. A weakening of Iran’s current regime and a more peaceful Middle East is better for the Iranian people, clearly better for the United States and for its allies, including, but not exclusively, Israel. The sanctions must be given time to have the desired effect.
Biden knows that the inroads to a more stable Middle East, a completion of the demise of an “Arab-Israeli conflict” and a world no longer living in terror of Iran’s nuclear program will allow him to establish this crucial trust with Israel and its supporters early on. It is clear that by taking such critical action, he will also be establishing that trust with much of the rest of the Middle East at the start of his administration.
If the Biden administration shows itself not to be an Obama administration redux, and understands that the original Iran deal was flawed and cannot be revisited in its current form; if trust and action can be aligned between the United States and Israel, then Biden will build this critical trust in the early days of his presidency and will be remembered as the president who made the world a safer and more peaceful place.
Rabbi Steven Burg is the CEO of Aish Global.