He’s Running. Again.

By | May 01, 2023

Jewish politics and power

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1. Jewish Dems and Republicans Size up Biden

In a move that surprised no one, Joe Biden finally announced last week his intention to seek reelection, stressing the need to “finish the job” and keep up the fight for “America’s soul.”

Immediately following, again surprising no one, Jewish Democrats and Republicans weighed in. While Biden’s procrastination allowed both sides plenty of time to prepare their arguments, they can be summed up in one sentence: Dems think Biden’s first term has been good for the Jews; Republicans think it was awful. Let’s dig in.

2. Is Growing Antisemitism a Biden Issue? 

In a statement, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) listed its grievances against Biden, noting that “Joe Biden has been derelict in his duty to keep Jewish Americans safe, kowtowing to the most radical elements of his party and legitimizing ascendant far left voices. On Biden’s watch, antisemitic hate crimes have skyrocketed.”

First, the data.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual report, there was indeed a dramatic surge in antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2022, with 3,697 reported events (including vandalism, harassment and assault) compared to 2,717 incidents in 2021. That’s a 36 percent increase.

Is it true to say that “antisemitic hate crimes have skyrocketed” under Biden? Yes. And no.

American Jews don’t need the ADL data to know that the past year was simply terrible, from brazen attacks targeting Orthodox Jews on the streets of New York to repeated dissemination of antisemitic flyers and hate material nationwide to the popular and political embrace of antisemitic artists and influencers.

But that’s only part of the picture.

Looking at the data, it’s obvious that antisemitic incidents have been on the rise for several years, with surges in 2017 (Donald Trump’s first year in office) and in 2021 (Biden’s first year.) If anything, it would probably be more accurate to say that neither Trump, who went on to host antisemites for dinner, nor Biden, who had made fighting extremism and hate one of his main reasons for running, have had demonstrable success in curbing the plague of Jew-hatred.

Jewish Democrats, in their pro-Biden talking points, argue that, “The Biden-Harris administration is defending Jewish Americans from antisemitism and the rise of extremism and hate.” They note increased federal funding for synagogue security, which his administration did oversee, though the funding has been on the rise consistently ever since the Nonprofit Security Grant Program was launched and has more to do with threat levels than with politics.

They also highlight Biden’s actions taken to address antisemitism directly, including his first-ever White House summit on the issue, establishing an inter-agency group to coordinate counter-antisemitism efforts, elevating the U.S. State Department position of special envoy to combat antisemitism to the level of an ambassador, and—perhaps most important—tasking Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff with leading the effort.

Bottom line: Biden is on safe ground when it comes to proving his credentials on fighting antisemitism. He has done a lot and has shown his commitment to the issue. Results, however, are still elusive. Even the best of intentions and the wide range of actions taken by the Biden administration have yet to produce a solution.

3. Are Biden Democrats Anti-Israel? 

Another claim raised by Biden’s Jewish critics is that he and his party have not done enough to rein in Democrats who hold anti-Israel views. The RJC has pointed to Dems’ battle to keep Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar on the Foreign Affairs Committee as a sign of their siding with antisemitic forces in the party’s left wing. Indeed, Democrats did try to keep Omar on the committee, despite her strong views against Israel and her past antisemitic comments, which she has since apologized for.

Did Biden take any active role in this discussion? No. Though it could be argued that a word from the president might have convinced House Democrats not to go to bat for Omar. (Democrats could also point to the GOP’s decision to return Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, both accused of antisemitism, to their committee assignments.) 

In the broader picture, however, the past two years have actually been pretty good for mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. Last week’s vote on a resolution recognizing the strong U.S.-Israel relationship and honoring Israel’s 75th anniversary won broad support with only 19 members voting against it, 18 of them progressive Democrats. This vote served as a reminder that under Biden, progressives have been all but shut down on issues relating to Israel. Efforts to condition aid to Israel are going nowhere, and even congressional letters expressing disapproval of Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest moves as prime minister have been moderate in their tone and lacked any practical demands.

4. How Has Biden Done on Iran and the Palestinian Front? 

On foreign policy, there are two key issues that Jewish voters care about, both as they relate to Israel: Fighting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the Iranian issue, the Jewish community, which was split about the merits of the original Iran nuclear deal, expected Biden to take action. Those supportive of the plan wanted to see Biden live up to his promise to revive the deal, and those opposed to it worked to convince him to let it go and move on to dealing with Iran in different ways.

In the end, it wasn’t really up to Biden.

Iran’s insistence on breaching the agreement, which Trump had abandoned, and its moves to increase uranium enrichment and to play up support for anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Saudi actors in the neighborhood, doomed the negotiations. Biden scored points on both sides: He showed willingness to seek a pragmatic diplomatic solution to the Iranian crisis and at the same time was spared the test of actually having to make a decision on it.

On the Palestinian front, Biden lived up to his decades-long reputation of being pragmatic on foreign policy. He backed off the Trump-era rhetoric toward the Palestinians, acknowledged their right to an independent state alongside Israel and made sure to slap Israel on the wrist when it moved to expand settlements or take moves seen as breaking the delicate status quo on the ground. But Biden’s approach, as he and his top diplomats have stated, was based on the premise that there is no deal to be had right now and that it would be futile for the United States to launch a new effort on Israeli-Palestinian peace. In this way, Biden kept mainstream pro-Israeli Jewish voters reassured and avoided any potential conflict over the issue. His administration even refused to advance symbolic gestures that could have signaled a willingness to confront Israel on the Palestinian issue, such as reopening the Palestinian-affairs consulate in Jerusalem, revoking the Trump-era definition of the settlements as not being in occupied territory, or returning the Palestinian diplomatic mission to Washington.

5. The Real Jewish Voter Issues

After all that, it is worth noting that Jewish voters’ primary concerns resemble those of all Americans, and that Biden will be judged by voters in the Jewish community on the same topics that all other U.S. voters look to.

“Out-of-control inflation continues to hammer hardworking families, the southern border is in crisis, criminals terrorize residents on city streets as liberal prosecutors sit idly by, and our country is treated as a punchline on the world stage,” writes the RJC.

Jewish Democrats note a whole other set of topics Biden has tackled, including defending democracy and protecting abortion rights, gun control, climate change and healthcare.

For Jewish Democratic-leaning voters, as most Jewish-Americans are, the latter list of achievements will probably suffice to convince them to go with Joe again. The minority of Jews who lean more conservative and are open to supporting Republican candidates will find that the former set of arguments resonate with their beliefs.

It’s safe to guess that Biden has little to worry about with Jewish voters. If 2024 turns out to be a rematch between Biden and Trump, the Jewish vote will probably split similarly to 2020, which by most estimates was well over 60/40 for Biden.

Top image credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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