In the weeks leading up to President Biden’s State of the Union address, aid packages to two of our allies, each in the middle of a war they didn’t start, were stalled in Congress. Last night, Biden made the case for… one of them.

“Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself,” Biden said. “That is all Ukraine is asking. They are not asking for American soldiers. In fact, there are no American soldiers at war in Ukraine. And I am determined to keep it that way. But now assistance for Ukraine is being blocked by those who want us to walk away from our leadership in the world.”

Hard to disagree. And what of our obligations to Israel, to aid our Mideast ally fighting its own defensive war against a brutal opponent? Crickets. Perhaps there wasn’t enough space in the 70-minute address for such trifles.

Not that he’d forgotten about the conflict. There was plenty in there about Israel’s Gaza counteroffensive—Israel’s responsibilities, Palestinians’ suffering, etc. The only talk of aid was about aid to the Palestinians, so careful were the speechwriters not to ruffle the feathers of the keffiyeh-clad Democrats in the chamber, some of whom not only donned the scarf but held signs calling for Israel to lay down its arms. The president also had to take an alternate route from the White House to deliver the speech last night thanks to pro-Hamas protesters blocking the roads.

Biden did note, correctly, that Hamas was responsible for starting the war and could end it now: “Hamas could end this conflict today by releasing the hostages, laying down arms, and surrendering those responsible for October 7th.”

Some of the families of American hostages were in the chamber last night. Biden briefly motioned at the gallery before moving on. What were their names, at least? Biden didn’t say. If you had your student loans forgiven, you got multiple extended camera shots and the president reciting your name and biography. If your family member was being held by Hamas, malnourished and bereft of medication and sunlight and was likely the repeated victim of sexual assault, you were a nameless and faceless prop to help the president cover his bases.

Biden also made sure to remind the chamber and those watching at home that Americans reject bigotry, “give hate no safe harbor.” Indeed, he said, “Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas. But you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back.”

It all sounded like a prelude to a discussion about the specific and undeniable prejudice dominating American institutions and the public square. But, as my colleague Abe Greenwald noted on today’s Commentary podcast, there was no mention of the tidal wave of anti-Semitism currently washing away the credibility and legitimacy of mainstream institutions—not even in the typical formulation in which it is balanced with Islamophobia, though there is no chilling epidemic of the latter. It is surely relevant to the state of our union that Jewish college students are subject to a more openly aggressive version of the bigotry they would have faced a century ago at those same universities, that street violence against Jews has become a regular occurrence, that the Jewish singer Matisyahu has had to hire extra staff and security to perform after two of his recent shows were canceled over venue workers’ discomfort with Jews, and that in the America of 2024 a bar in Salt Lake City can hang a sign that says “No Zionists Allowed”—as have campus shops and other establishments.

The president succeeded last night in showing vigor and emotional range and improvisational aplomb. So we can only conclude that all of the above didn’t make it into his speech for the sole reason that he and his staff didn’t want to talk about it.

Just like his brief drive from the White House to the Capitol before the speech, Joe Biden had to take a detour around the traditional route he might have taken had he been permitted to do so by his party’s considerable anti-Zionist freakshow contingent. The president is engaged in an ongoing hostage negotiation with his own party, and he is the hostage. Mr. President, blink twice if no one’s bringing you ice cream.

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