‘I am a Zionist’: How Joe Biden’s lifelong bond with Israel shapes war policy

WASHINGTON: When Joe Biden met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his struggle cupboard throughout his go to to Israel, the US president assured them: “I do not imagine you must be a Jew to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”
The politicians and generals gathered within the ballroom of the Tel Aviv lodge nodded in approval, in accordance with a US official educated of the closed-door remarks, whilst Israel bombarded Gaza in retaliation for a devastating assault by Palestinian Hamas militants and with a floor invasion looming.
Biden, who’s of Irish Catholic descent, has used related phrases up to now to profess his affinity for Israel. However the second, which has not been beforehand reported, illustrates how Biden’s a long time as one of many main “Associates of Israel” in American politics appear to be guiding him throughout a defining disaster of his presidency.
It additionally underscores the challenges he faces balancing unwavering help for Israel with persuading Netanyahu – with whom he has a protracted historical past – to keep away from worsening the civilian demise toll and humanitarian meltdown in Gaza in addition to complicating additional releases of American hostages.
“Biden’s connection to Israel is deeply engrained in his political DNA,” mentioned Aaron David Miller, a former Center East negotiator who served six secretaries of state in each Democratic and Republican administrations. “Whether or not he likes it or not, he is within the midst of a disaster he’ll need to handle.”
Reuters interviewed a dozen present and former aides, lawmakers and analysts, a few of whom mentioned Biden’s present wartime embrace of Netanyahu might afford the US leverage to attempt to reasonable Israel’s response in Gaza.
Of their personal session with aides on Wednesday, the 2 leaders displayed not one of the tensions which have generally characterised their conferences, in accordance with a second US official accustomed to the talks.
However Biden did pose arduous inquiries to Netanyahu concerning the coming offensive, together with “have you ever thought by way of what comes the day after and the day after that?” the official mentioned. US and regional sources have expressed doubt that Israel, which vows to destroy Hamas, has but crafted an endgame.
Biden’s alignment with the right-wing chief dangers alienating some progressives in his Democratic Occasion as he seeks re-election in 2024, with a rising worldwide outcry in opposition to Israel’s ways additionally casting some blame on the US
It additionally has prompted many Palestinians and others within the Arab world to treat Biden as too biased in favor of Israel to behave as an even-handed peace dealer.
Solid Over A long time
Biden has partly credited his pro-Israel world view to his father, who insisted following World Struggle Two and the Nazi Holocaust there was little doubt of the justness of creating Israel as a Jewish homeland in 1948.
Biden’s consciousness of the persecution of Jews over the centuries and a document excessive within the variety of antisemitic incidents within the US final 12 months might additionally assist clarify why Hamas atrocities dedicated within the Oct. 7 assault on Israel had been so disturbing for the 80-year-old president, in accordance with a former US official.
Coming into nationwide politics in 1973, Biden spent the following 5 a long time forging his coverage positions – iron-clad help for Israel’s safety coupled with backing for steps towards Palestinian statehood – as he served as US senator, Barack Obama’s vp and at last president.
His profession was marked by deep engagement with the Israeli-Arab battle, together with an oft-retold encounter with Prime Minister Golda Meir who advised the younger lawmaker in 1973 on the cusp of the Yom Kippur Struggle that Israel’s secret weapon was “now we have no place else to go.”
Throughout his 36 years within the Senate, Biden was the chamber’s greatest recipient in historical past of donations from pro-Israeli teams, taking in $4.2 million, in accordance with the Open Secrets and techniques database.
As vp, Biden usually mediated the testy relationship between Obama and Netanyahu.
Dennis Ross, a Center East adviser throughout Obama’s first time period, recalled Biden intervening to forestall retribution in opposition to Netanyahu for a diplomatic snub throughout a 2010 go to. Obama, Ross mentioned, had needed to come back down arduous over Israel’s announcement of a serious enlargement of housing for Jews in East Jerusalem, the largely Arab half of town captured within the 1967 struggle.
“Each time issues had been getting out of hand with Israel, Biden was the bridge,” mentioned Ross, now on the Washington Institute for Close to East Coverage. “His dedication to Israel was that robust … And it is the intuition we’re seeing now.”
Whereas Biden and Netanyahu profess to be longtime associates, their relationship was frayed in latest months with the White Home echoing Israeli opponents of Netanyahu’s plan to curb the powers of the Supreme Courtroom of Israel.
Progressive Dissent
The 2 now discover themselves in an uneasy alliance that might be examined by an Israeli floor offensive.
Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham, in an interview with Reuters, expressed confidence that the “arc of time” in Biden and Netanyahu’s relationship would allow them to work collectively.
However in a veiled swipe, Graham, who spent years as Biden’s Senate colleague, mentioned it was “crucial” he set “pink strains” to maintain Iran, Hamas’s benefactor, out of the battle.
Biden has warned Iran to not become involved however has not spelled out penalties.
Hamas gunmen killed 1,400 individuals and took round 200 hostages, together with Individuals, once they rampaged by way of Israeli cities. Israel has since put Gaza below siege. Not less than 4,385 Palestinians have been killed, Gaza officers mentioned.
Whereas Republicans have proven near-unanimity in endorsing no matter motion Israel takes, Biden faces dissent from a faction of progressives pushing for Israeli restraint and a ceasefire.
“President Biden, not all America is with you on this one, and it’s essential to get up and perceive,” Consultant Rashida Tlaib, the one Palestinian American in Congress, advised supporters. “We are actually watching individuals commit genocide.”
However consultants say Biden might achieve floor amongst unbiased voters who share his affinity for Israel.
A Reuters/Ipsos ballot launched on Monday confirmed stronger US public sympathy for Israel than up to now, with help for Israel highest amongst Republicans at 54%, in comparison with 37% of Democrats. Youthful Individuals confirmed much less help for Israel than older Individuals.
Biden, going through low approval rankings, and a few fellow Democrats are additionally anticipated to be cautious of operating afoul of the principle US pro-Israel foyer, AIPAC, a robust drive in US elections.
However the disaster has additionally stirred criticism of Biden for not devoting sufficient consideration to the plight of Palestinians, whose hopes for statehood have grown ever dimmer below Israeli occupation.
US officers had mentioned the time was not proper to renew long-suspended Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, largely due to intransigence on each side.
“The administration’s neglect of the difficulty is a key consider the place we’re as we speak,” Khaled Elgindy, a former Palestinian negotiations adviser, mentioned.
Biden’s “clean examine” for Israel’s assault on Gaza has “shattered, maybe irreversibly, what little credibility the US had left,” mentioned Elgindy, now on the Center East Institute in Washington.

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