Joe Biden is used to talking to Israel-skeptics who insist their beef isn’t with the Israeli people but with their government, and claim that their resentment isn’t aimed at the Jewish state’s existence but at the lack of a Palestinian state alongside it. The problem is, those folks are gone. Or, to put it more precisely, the people protesting Biden’s support for Israel no longer rely on polite arguments. Now they come right out and say they object to Israel’s very existence.

Biden refuses to address this new reality. It’s the primary reason why his attempts to mollify his party’s base on Gaza have fallen flat. They are talking right past each other.

Biden’s MSNBC interview with Jonathan Capehart on March 10 made it clear the administration has settled on the talking point that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the problem. “In my view,” the president said, “[Netanyahu] is hurting Israel more than helping Israel by making the rest of the world—it’s contrary to what Israel stands for. And I think it’s a big mistake.”

What is the “it” here? Biden tried to explain that Bibi is not, apparently, paying enough “attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.”

That didn’t make it any clearer, but his discussion of the war in Gaza followed this pattern: he brought it back it back to Bibi.

Vice President Kamala Harris took a more explicit route to the same destination. “I think it’s important for us to distinguish, or at least to not conflate, the Israeli government with the Israeli people,” Harris said. “The Israeli people are entitled to security, as are the Palestinians. In equal measure.”

This is the sort of thing the administration says about the Palestinians and Hamas. The moral equivalence is egregious, but another problem with it is this: Whom are they talking to? Who is the audience for this?

Vilifying Bibi was edgy a decade ago, maybe, especially as a way of saying Israel might conceivably have the right to defend itself but not this way. Today, the activists powering the pro-Hamas protest movement don’t believe and don’t claim that “the Israeli people are entitled to security.” They are, instead, saying that the Israeli people are colonizers, that decolonization is necessarily violent, and that Israel doesn’t have the right to security and self-defense from the people it supposedly oppresses.

Biden and Harris are arguing with a ghost.

And they’re not arguing well, it must be said. Especially Harris. Israel is currently being led by a unity government. That means the primary opposition party is part of the governing coalition. That party is led by Benny Gantz, who is leading Netanyahu in the polls by a comfortable margin.

Recent polls show that in the next elections, the coalition of parties led by Gantz would get 75 seats in the Knesset. The faction led by Netanyahu would get 45 seats. That accounts for… 100 percent of the seats in the Knesset. And they don’t disagree on the war strategy.

What’s more, Israeli voters want Gantz to stay in the current Netanyahu-led government. In fact, a large majority of Gantz’s own voters want him to stay in the coalition, despite the fact that he would handily win the next election. One of Netanyahu’s longtime rivals is Avigdor Lieberman, who has recently called for the government to disband and hold new elections. Yet a majority of Lieberman’s own voters don’t agree.

A common talking point is that Netanyahu—like his predecessor and his predecessor’s predecessor, etc.—did not receive a majority of the votes himself, and had to cobble together a coalition to govern. First of all, that is true of every Israeli governing coalition. But second and more important, Israelis vote strategically—meaning if one party seems to be on the path to victory, many voters will cast their ballot for one of the other parties to increase that other party’s chances of being brought into the governing coalition. Therefore the coalitions that govern Israel are in fact democratically representative.

That’s part of what makes the moral equivalence so galling. You don’t have to make assumptions about the Israeli public. They are not living under tyranny. Israel is a democracy. If you want to know what Israelis think, just ask them.

For example, they largely support the current war effort. And since Israel has compulsory national service, when politicians complain about the conduct of the war, they are criticizing the Israeli people as much as the government.

Not that any of this matters to the people trying to torpedo Biden’s reelection over Gaza. Which makes the administration’s current strategy all the more peculiar. Biden and Harris seem determined to alienate everybody. And at the rate they’re going, they might succeed.

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link