Al-Jazeera / June 4, 2020
Joe Biden cannot afford, even if he wanted to, an independent approach to US policy towards Israel.
I do not take too kindly to people telling me that I am an anti-Semite. Though the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for president, Joe Biden, did not say that to my face, he might just as well have.
On May 19, Biden conducted an online fundraiser co-hosted by the former Obama ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, and pro-Israel academic, Deborah Lipstadt. According to The New York Times, Biden told donors that “it was important to condemn criticism of Israel that drifts toward anti-Semitism, including on the political left”, even as he acknowledged that he had “gotten in trouble” for such calls in the past. “Criticism of Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitism,” Biden said. “But too often that criticism from the left morphs into anti-Semitism.”
As a Jew who is “on the political left,” critical of Israeli apartheid, and a supporter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), I am clearly what he considers an anti-Semite. Biden’s generalisation is not only false, it is offensive.
No one tells me that these views are anti-Semitic. Not a fellow Jew. Not a non-Jew. Especially not a presidential candidate who is kissing the behinds of pro-Israel donors in order to rake in big campaign bucks.
Biden followed with comments that were not so much offensive as disingenuous, and showed a total divorce from current Israeli political reality. He said he was “disappointed” in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for having moved “so, so far to the right” and called for Israel to “stop the threat of annexation” of occupied West Bank territories. “It’ll choke off any hope of peace,” Biden said.
Netanyahu did not “move to the right.” He has been a fascist all his political life. As for the “threat of annexation” – it is not a threat, it is a “promise” inscribed in the current governing coalition agreement. Israel will annex the Jordan Valley. The question is what will Biden do about it. And the answer is clear – nothing. Aside from the usual nostrums and bromides.
Just a few weeks earlier, Biden had said that he opposed United States President Donald Trump’s “short-sighted and frivolous” decision to move the US mission in Israel to Jerusalem, but “now that it’s done, I would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv”.
Biden in effect has endorsed one of the most incendiary decisions of Trump’s presidency, moving the US embassy to the divided city of Jerusalem: endorsing Israeli sovereignty, including over East Jerusalem, which is supposedly reserved for a Palestinian capital. This Democratic presidential hopeful, who served as vice president in an administration that refused to do any of these things, has swallowed the poison pill and declared it delicious.
Biden’s white paper addressed to Jewish voters, The Jewish Community: a Record and a Plan of Friendship, Support, and Action offers more disheartening content. While he promises to resume aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), he conditions it on the PA halting its welfare payments to the surviving family of shahids who died at the hands of Israel. As PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused such demands in the past, this would mean that Biden would effectively continue Trump’s cut-off of all support to the Palestinians.
In earlier statements, Biden’s senior adviser Tony Blinken had explained that his candidate would not condition US aid to Israel on Israel’s adherence to international law.
“He [Biden] would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes. Period. Full stop. He said it; he’s committed to it.”
Blinken also emphasised that, if elected president, Biden will push back against the BDS movement as well as efforts to denounce Israel for its violations of international law at the United Nations. “Will we stand up forcefully against it and try to prevent it, defuse it and defeat it? Absolutely,” he said.
Biden’s senior adviser then added for good measure this even more insulting condescension towards the Palestinian people and its leadership:
“In the category of ‘Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’, I think a reminder to Palestinians … that they can and should do better and deserve better and that requires leadership: leadership to make clear the reality of the Jewish state; leadership to make clear the need to end incitement and violence; leadership to bring people along for the prospect of negotiating.”
If I had a nickel for every pro-Israel politician who offered uninvited advice to Palestinians saying they “deserved better” and would do so much better if they only “accepted the reality of things”, I would be a rich man. In essence, such a statement demands they should accept the decimation of every aspiration they might have and every right to justice.
In a conventional Democratic presidential campaign, more than 50 percent of cash contributions originate from Jewish pocketbooks. Unlike the grassroots campaign of Bernie Sanders, which relied on millions of small donations, Biden’s is the most conventional of such campaigns and desperately needs the support of pro-Israel CEOs and hedge fund managers capable of giving millions.
The upshot is that Biden cannot afford, even if he wanted to, an independent approach to US policy towards Israel. He must do what the Israel lobby and its donors dictate. His presidency would follow the same tack.
The linchpin of Biden’s Israel-Palestine policy is a two-state solution. It is a dead letter. Some may not see the danger in pinning an entire foreign policy on a faded delusion. But there is a steep price. When you base such policy on the belief in something that does not and cannot exist, you render yourself irrelevant to the region. You offer no solution. You offer houses built of sand.
This means that the region will continue to shake with unrest like a powder keg about to explode. And Biden will have nothing relevant to offer. He will be worse than Obama, who himself was a failure in the region.
He will be slightly better than Trump. But that is not saying much. It is like the doctor telling you he has good news and bad news. The good news: you do not have inoperable cancer. The bad news: you have multiple sclerosis.
Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses [sic] of the Israeli national security state