Biden Gives Netanyahu Free Rein

Biden is giving a green light to war crimes and pointless slaughter, and he should be held accountable for what follows.

There has been some remarkably strong and justified criticism of Israeli attacks on Palestinians coming from some Democratic members of Congress in the last week. Several progressive House members have taken to Twitter to say, “Apartheid states are not democracies.” That is unprecedented in public criticism of Israel from sitting members of Congress, and it shows how much has changed in just the the last few years. One of the bedrock, unquestioned assumptions that members of both parties have routinely accepted is that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East,” but now that more and more Americans recognize that it is correct to describe Israel as an apartheid state this earlier claim is no longer taken as a given. Supporters of a lockstep, “no daylight” relationship with Israel have leaned heavily on Israel’s status as a democracy to justify the extraordinary amount of aid and diplomatic cover that the U.S. provides. The growing recognition of Israeli apartheid is taking a sledgehammer to that idea.

There is a much greater willingness on the part of progressive Democrats to question and challenge the current U.S.-Israel relationship than there was even ten years ago. This reflects the ongoing changes within the party that were already hinted at during the platform fight at the 2016 Democratic convention. Democratic voters have become increasingly open to criticism of the relationship, and there is much greater sympathy for Palestinians than there was a generation ago. Part of this is driven by the changing views of younger generations of Americans, who are generally much less “pro-Israel” than their elders. Even if they support the relationship, Democratic voters have much less of a problem with putting conditions on U.S. aid than they once did.

All of this contrasts sharply with the Biden administration’s paint-by-numbers endorsement of the Israeli government’s actions in the last week. It is not surprising, but Biden and his officials remain stuck in another era in which reciting pabulum about the “two-state solution” and “ironclad” support for Israel was sufficient. Biden has shown an ability to listen and adapt to some criticisms coming from the left, but on this issue he seems deaf or oblivious. I don’t think Biden and his advisers appreciate how awful and out-of-touch this makes them look, and I suspect they are underestimating the backlash they are inviting from within their own party. Biden’s handling of Israeli attacks on Palestinians over the last week has been woefully lacking, and what’s worse is that he doesn’t seem to realize how poor his response has been. Just a couple days ago, Biden claimed that he hadn’t seen a “significant overreaction” from Israel when they were already committing flagrant war crimes by blowing up entire tower blocks to “send a message” and displacing tens of thousands of people with their attacks.

Earlier today, on the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, the Biden White House let it be known that the president had once again assured Netanyahu of U.S. support for their “right to self-defense.” There was no acknowledgment of the victims of indiscriminate Israeli bombings in Gaza or any of the other violence that Israeli forces have carried out over the last week against Palestinians elsewhere in the occupied territories. There was no mention of the mob violence in Israeli cities against Palestinians that have been targeted because of their ethnicity. There was no mention of the deaths of scores of innocent people, including at least 40 children in just the last five days. The White House was sure to condemn indiscriminate attacks on Israel, but said nothing about the tactics of leveling entire residential buildings or the bombing of civilian targets that has already claimed more than one hundred lives. The outrageous Israeli attack that destroyed the building housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices also went unremarked. The message from the Biden administration is as clear as can be: Palestinian lives don’t matter to them, Israeli war crimes don’t count, and even attacks on international media provoke only the mildest complaint from the White House Press Secretary.

The administration has been reassuring the Israeli government that they can continue doing what they have been doing without any fear of alienating Washington. The U.S. has it within its power to rein in Israeli bombing campaigns by threatening to cut off aid, but Biden has chosen to let Netanyahu have free rein. Biden is giving a green light to war crimes and pointless slaughter, and he should be held accountable for what follows.