‘They’re wrong’: Biden rejects US progressive lawmakers criticism of Israel

US President Joe Biden, caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, and Israels President Isaac Herzog at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod near Tel Aviv, on 13 July 2022. (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 14, 2022

US president tells Israel’s Channel 12 there is ‘no possibility’ of Democrats or Republicans walking away from Israel.

US President Joe Biden rejected the notion that criticism of Israel from progressive lawmakers represents a growing divide within the Democratic Party, saying that bipartisan support for Israel will remain a constant in the country.

When asked if Israelis should be concerned about whether last year’s push to halt funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile system is a sign of a rift between the US and Israel, Biden stressed “there is no possibility, I think, of the Democratic Party or even a significant portion of the Republican Party walking away from Israel”.

“There are few of them. I think they’re wrong. I think they’re making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend and I make no apologies,” Biden told Israel’s Channel 12 news in a pre-recorded interview that aired earlier this week.

“It’s overwhelming, our interest that Israel be stable,” he said.

The remarks come amid sizable congressional efforts from Democrats to criticize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, which multiple Israeli and international rights groups have characterized as apartheid. Many lawmakers have also similarly criticized the Biden administration’s unwavering support of Israel amid these abuses.

The latest sticking point between the Biden administration and prominent Democratic lawmakers is the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. A veteran reporter for Al-Jazeera Arabic, Abu Akleh was killed during an Israeli raid on the Palestinian village of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

Multiple eyewitnesses, including Middle East Eye contributor Shatha Hanaysha, as well as independent investigations, say she was killed by Israeli forces. However, Israel has denied this. The US released a report earlier this month that largely accepted the Israeli narrative, saying that Abu Akleh was killed by “accident”.

There have been multiple letters sent by lawmakers, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, calling on the Biden administration to administer its own independent investigation into the killing.

On Wednesday, top US senators, including the pro-Israel lawmaker Bob Menendez, said in a letter to Biden that the administration had not provided any details of a “thorough… credible investigation” into the killing.

The senators urged Biden to provide a senior-level classified briefing on the investigation’s details and what steps the administration would take next regarding accountability.

In addition to Abu Akleh’s killing, Democrats have also raised concerns over Israel’s labelling of Palestinian NGOs as terror groups and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

A number of prominent progressive Democrats have also hit out at the issue of US military aid to Israel, which stands at $3.8bn a year. Lawmakers have introduced legislation in recent years to condition this aid.

One bill introduced by Congresswoman Betty McCollum would condition that no aid be used for the detention of Palestinian children or the creation of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.

While progressive Democrats were able to successfully block an attempt to include an additional $1bn to Israel for its Iron Dome missile system in the annual Pentagon budget last September, the aid ultimately went through in a separate vote.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, is planning to extend the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that established a 10-year, $38bn defence package for Israel.

A strategic document detailing the US-Israel alliance signed by Biden and Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid highlights ongoing American support for the MOU as well as support for extending it at an appropriate time.

A senior US official told Haaretz that the document is “a reaffirmation of the importance of the MOU that was put in place when President Biden was vice president, but also the commitment to look at the future and that we recognize the need for, ultimately, another agreement when the MOU ultimately expires”.