OPINIONS

Tue 09 Apr 2024 11:47 pm - Jerusalem Time

Biden has no emotional attachment to Israel, it’s about politics

BY PHILIP WEISS 

The New Yorker asks, "Why is the most powerful country in human history essentially taking orders from a country that relies on it for aid?” and then avoids the most obvious answer.

The New Yorker asked Aaron David Miller, the longtime peace processor, why Joe Biden is going along with Israel’s war crimes, and Miller said it’s because Joe Biden has an emotional attachment to Israel.

“Joe Biden, alone among modern American Presidents, has an emotional relationship with the idea of Israel, the people of Israel, the security of Israel.”

This is the company line. Richard Haass, an Israel supporter and dean of foreign policy, said it on NPR this week too. “The administration is trying to balance support for Israel with its disagreements with Israeli policy. I think the president in particular feels an emotional bond to Israel.”

And it’s what Jeffrey Goldberg once said was lacking in Barack Obama. Jewish voters “worry about whether presidential candidates feel the importance of Israel in their kishkes, or guts.”

 

It’s a false test. Great politicians don’t have emotional attachments to foreign countries that get in the way of politics. Politicians learn to throw anyone under the bus.

Biden takes the position he has because he needs the Israel lobby in the 2024 election. And the power of the official Jewish community in enforcing Biden’s support for war crimes is something Chotiner and Miller are incapable of discussing.

The New Yorker interview is helpful as yet another marker of Israel’s collapse in the U.S. discourse. Chotiner insists on the barbaric character of Israel’s assault: “this country that we consider an ally and consider part of our shared democratic values” is “intentionally starving the Palestinian population.”

Miller is also helpful, when he points out that Biden’s stance of renouncing Netanyahu won’t make things better– because all Israel is behind the genocidal policies.

“It is not as if Benny Gantz, members of the war cabinet, and most of the political élites are not completely in tune with Netanyahu’s war strategy.”

Then Chotiner moves on to the core question: “Why is the most powerful country in human history essentially taking orders from a country that relies on it for aid?”

When Miller answers that it’s about emotion, Chotiner points out that Miller himself doesn’t have the same emotions for Palestinian victims as he does for Jewish ones, and Miller acknowledges as much.

Chotiner: “When I was listening to you talk, and you discussed the horrors of October 7th, I sensed an emotion in your voice that I haven’t heard at any other time in this conversation. I don’t want to criticize that, but I do wonder if the people who make policy in America don’t have that same emotion when it comes to Palestinian lives. Do you think that’s fair?”

Miller: “I think it’s fair to say, yes, that… Do I think that Joe Biden has the same depth of feeling and empathy for the Palestinians of Gaza as he does for the Israelis? No, he doesn’t.”

No doubt there is a lot of racism at work in the U.S. establishment. Just look at the overwhelming response to Israel’s slaughter of seven aid workers (Australian, British, American, and Canadian nationals) when hundreds of Palestinian aid workers have been killed without a scintilla of that outrage.

But the U.S. establishment has put racism to the side in the face of other great political movements, such as anti-apartheid in South Africa and the Black Lives Matter cultural shift.

And it has repeatedly treated Palestinians like dirt.

There are many reasons for Washington’s exaltation of Zionism, but the main one is the political role of the Israel lobby. Even liberal Jews regard the creation of Israel as the greatest achievement of the Jewish people in the last century; and they have built institutions to support Israel, that have considerable influence in the Democratic Party.

Miller grew up in that community. He is from a wealthy Cleveland family that included many Israel lobbyists, among them his late father. “He was a confidant of Israeli Prime Ministers and other leaders,” the Cleveland Jewish newspaper wrote. Miller’s cousin, the late great human rights lawyer Michael Ratner, described the pro-Israel sentiment of the family in his posthumous memoir of 2021. “Fundraising for Israel never ceased in our household… By the time I was 13, our family had invested in several projects in Israel.”

Follow the money. Today Biden sees Gaza genocide hurting the Democrats among voters, and maybe even costing him the election, as James Carville has warned; but he can’t pivot on Israel because he needs cash from the lobby. Biden had a three-hour meeting with megadonor Haim Saban last year in the White House; Saban has pronounced him “pristine” on Israeli policy; and Saban recently hosted a big fundraiser for Biden in California.

This is called corruption when the Koch brothers sway policy, but the media don’t go there when it’s Israel.

Biden’s personal feelings about Israel are meaningless. The truth is that Biden has been humiliated repeatedly by Israel and declined to do anything about it. In 1982 as a young senator he banged a table and lectured Menachem Begin about the settlements and threatened to cut off U.S. aid. His surrogates denied this story when he was running in 2020 so it wouldn’t hurt him.

In 2010 Netanyahu humiliated Biden by announcing new settlements just as then Vice President Biden landed in Israel. The open contempt for Obama’s policy caused Biden to put off a meeting with Netanyahu– but then he swallowed his pride and had the meeting.

Politics is way more important than feelings. Biden knows that Democrats have been overwhelmingly dependent on the Jewish community for campaign fundraising and so they can do nothing to alienate that community’s perceived attachment to Israel.

“There is little willingness among Democrats to argue publicly for substantially changing longstanding policy toward Israel” in large part because “of the influence of megadonors,” Nathan Thrall wrote in the New York Times in 2019.

Of the dozens of personal checks greater than $500,000 made out to the largest PAC for Democrats in 2018, the Senate Majority PAC, around three-fourths were written by Jewish donors. This provides fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and for some, it is the elephant in the room. Though the number of Jewish donors known to prioritize pro-Israel policies above all other issues is small, there are few if any pushing in the opposite direction…

After Netanyahu humiliated Obama by lecturing him in the White House in 2011 over Jerusalem, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s top foreign policy aide, had to then grovel to the Israel lobby. He said he had to get on the phone to “a list of leading Jewish donors . . . to reassure them of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides.”

Tom Friedman once explained the math: “If I have AIPAC’s stamp of the approval and you don’t… I don’t have to make many phone calls to get all the money I need to run against you. [But] you will have to make 50,000 phone calls.”

There is a long history of the Israel lobby hurting politicians who cross it. Clinton made George Bush a one-term president in part by running to his right on settlements that Bush had opposed. As Friedman stated, Bush’s son GWB derived the political lesson that Republicans should never be out-Israel’d again, and he became president with the support of the neocons whose entire worldview was shaped by the U.S. backing Israel.

The belief that the neocons are the reason Bush started the Iraq war is widely held, including by Tom Friedman, but when scholars put it in the book The Israel Lobby of 2007, many in the official Jewish community denounced the idea as antisemitic. “Jews are responsible for all wars,” as Jeffrey Goldberg caricatured it.

Chotiner and Miller know all this and won’t talk about it. If you are going to blame people for a bad policy, you ought to start in your own backyard. That has always been my reason for focusing on the Israel lobby — it is an institution started by my community, of which I have special knowledge.

Chotiner has an obligation now to interview an expert on the Israel lobby, such as John Mearsheimer or Stephen Walt, who put their careers on the line to call out that influence. They would answer his vital question– Why is a superpower bending over backward to facilitate a small country’s genocide of people who are of the wrong ethnicity.

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Biden has no emotional attachment to Israel, it’s about politics

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