Actions taken to satisfy calls of “just do something!” are unintentionally but reliably destructive. That’s probably going to be the case with President Biden’s decision to sanction four Jewish alleged hooligans in the West Bank.
The problem is obviously not with the concept of punishing bad behavior. From the looks of it, at least one of the targets of today’s executive order appears to be pretty destructive. David Chai Chasdai is accused of leading a riot in the flashpoint town of Huwara that resulted in the death of one Palestinian and of participating in another riot in Huwara. Chasdai has had a series of run-ins with Israel’s Shin Bet security service. Yet it is also true that, at least in Chasdai’s case, he’s known to the U.S. precisely because the state of Israel does not treat him with kid gloves, so it’s unclear why the U.S. had to step in.
That last point is important, because the language of the order is much broader than is necessary, creating a precedent ripe for abuse by a future president. And even this first crop of targets should have given the administration pause. A couple of the names on the list are accused of being domestic criminals, but the executive order seems to automatically designate bad behavior, some of it nonviolent, as an international threat simply because it took place on the disputed side of the green line.
The order says that “these actions constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” which is facially absurd for all except one act allegedly committed by one of the sanctioned men. But the men on the list do appear to qualify for the sanctions because of the ridiculously broad list of applicable crimes. For example, a “threat of violence targeting civilians.” The perpetrators are also civilians, though. Is it U.S. policy to intervene in a shouting match between neighbors in another country by banning one of the offenders from traveling to the U.S.? It is now, apparently.
Additionally, the Palestinian Authority is guilty of every single offense on the entire list many times over, so it’s quite clear this is meant to apply differently to different people depending entirely on their religion. The executive order has to be written in general terms to avoid explicitly stating its clear discriminatory intent, but all that does is widen the scope of infractions that will be applied only to members of one faith.
Why, you might ask, would the White House scrounge together an obnoxiously shoddy legal framework when it has anti-terrorism laws on the books that can already be applied to anyone who actually deserves it? The answer is in the question: The existing laws don’t discriminate and this order is meant to appease the members of Biden’s political coalition who specifically want discriminatory policy.
The progressive base is angry at Biden for supporting Israel over Hamas in the current war. These folks are, to an astonishingly large degree, rabidly anti-Semitic, and have based their political movement around the stated desire to ethnically cleanse the Middle East of its Jews. But they are threatening not to vote for Biden and other Democrats, and therefore Biden is seeking to appease them somehow.
Two problems here. The first is obvious: Don’t appease maniacal Milosevic-wannabes, because you will get more of them and we already have quite enough, thank you very much. As was said of Trump and the alt-right, if Biden can’t win without pleasing the folks who think Hitler got a bad rap then he should reconsider his electoral coalition.
The other problem is that since the psychos he’s courting won’t be remotely satisfied by this order, he’s likely going to continue taking counterproductive potshots at our allies during wartime in the hopes that the snarling that follows him around everywhere will stop.
The best you can say about this executive order is that it isn’t a complete disaster for American foreign policy. Will we be able to say that about the next one?