Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

By | Apr 01, 2024
Biden and Netanyahu

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1. How to escalate a relationship in 24 hours

Last Monday was not a good day for the Biden-Netanyahu relationship. In fact, it was probably the worst since Biden took office.

By 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time it became clear that the U.S. administration intended to change course and allow a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire and for the release of hostages to pass without an American veto blocking the decision. Minutes later, the Israeli prime minister issued a public threat: If there’s no U.S. veto, I’ll pull the plug on the high-level delegation about to leave for Washington to discuss Israel’s plans to attack Rafah and hear the administration’s proposed alternatives to a full-scale ground operation. Less than a half an hour later, it was time to vote. U.S. ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield abstained, and the resolution passed. No American veto was issued. Another few minutes went by, and Netanayhu made good on his threat: The delegation to Washington was nixed. Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Israel’s National Security Council, were ordered to stay at home. The spin machines on both sides began working at full speed. Netanyahu’s office briefed reporters that the resolution did not demand the release of hostages, and that Biden had reneged on his promise to shield Israel from any such UN move. The White House, on the other hand, told reporters in Washington that the resolution included a clear demand to release hostages, while stating that the United States was “confused” and “perplexed” by Bibi’s move. Some U.S. officials went so far as to claim that Netanyahu had manufactured this entire crisis only because of his domestic political needs at home.

By noon, less than three hours after this exchange began, Washington and Jerusalem were in full crisis mode.

And frankly, neither of the sides caught in this mudslinging battle seemed to care. Both Netanyahu and Biden had gains to make, and neither wanted, as the old Churchill saying goes, to let a good crisis go to waste.

For Biden, allowing the Security Council resolution to pass despite Bibi’s show of outrage was a useful move. It bolstered his promise of keeping this UN body alive and effective, while at the same time sending a signal to Netanyahu that if he doesn’t start listening, America’s diplomatic shield protecting Israel might no longer be there. Next time could be worse.

Netanyahu also had much to gain. Standing up to the United States always plays well with his coalition, especially when Netanyahu might have to make tough compromises very soon in order to reach a hostage release deal.

In reality, this crisis faded away just as quickly as it had come. The UN resolution is on the books, but won’t be implemented by Israel or Hamas; Israel’s delegation will eventually come to Washington and hold talks with the administration, albeit a week or two later than originally planned; and the issue at stake—an Israeli attack on Rafah—is still on hold regardless of how Biden and Netanyahu feel toward each other.

2. The one arena where relations could change

Tensions come and go, and crises flare up and then calm down. Most don’t have a lasting impact on the relationship between the two nations. Even now, Israel has no better ally than the U.S. to count on in its time of need, and the U.S. has no other Middle East partner that shares so many of its interests and values.

But this time could be different.

Take a look at America’s military support for Israel. This massive $3.4 billion annual package, which amounts to nearly $4 billion when other funding elements are added in, and which this year could reach more than $14 billion due to the immense costs of the Gaza war, has, surprisingly, been one of the least controversial issues between the two countries. America has gladly provided the funding—which is all earmarked for purchases from American manufacturers, so the money basically is all spent in the U.S. Presidents from both parties have hardly never questioned the need for it, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have  always been there to approve the funding year after year.

But now something has cracked.

The idea that providing military aid to Israel needs to come with strings attached is all of a sudden gaining traction among Democrats. Led by Senators Chris Van Hollen and Bernie Sanders, liberals in Congress are not only speaking out against giving Israel a blank check when it comes to military aid, but are also actively, and effectively, moving to put limitations in place. For now, they’ve succeeded in forcing the administration to demand that countries receiving military assistance declare that they are not using these arms in a way that violates human rights and that they don’t impede the movement of humanitarian aid. But that’s not all: A growing number of Democrats are questioning Biden’s decision to provide Israel with heavy bombs and warplanes and have pushed the administration into a corner in which it must either provide arms to Israel based on years-old approvals or bypass Congress altogether in order to avoid a showdown.

The idea that Israel can count on the United States for pretty much all its military needs is no longer a given. For now, it is the first casualty of the rift between the two countries.

3. Jewish Dems shift to the center

The Gaza war is also forcing establishment Jewish Democrats to do some rethinking.

For years, this group avoided actively trying to unseat members of their own party, even if their policies and public comments didn’t fully align with the Jewish Democratic worldview. Last week, however, the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) decided to endorse two candidates challenging incumbent members of Congress. In both cases, it was the incumbents’ positions on Israel that lost them the Democratic Jewish group’s support.

JDCA endorsed George Latimer, who is running in the party’s primaries against Rep. Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th district, and Wesley Bell, who is challenging Rep. Cori Bush in Missouri. 

Bush is a member of The Squad and a longtime critic of Israel. Bowman has made troubling comments regarding the Gaza war, including denying the rape of Israeli women by Hamas and failing to condemn Hamas when calling for a cease-fire. Their opponents have expressed pro-Israel views.

Not backing a Democratic incumbent whose views on Israel are too critical for mainstream Jewish Democrats is nothing new. But actively trying to unseat them by endorsing their primary challengers is a bigger deal.

The move is a clear indication of the unease within the Democratic Party and the feeling of pro-Israel Democrats that the left-leaning margins are no longer part of their political world. Had it not been a time of war, these tensions would be easy to paper over. But with pressure mounting daily, Jewish Democrats caught in the middle of a battle to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel feel they need to fight on all fronts.

4. Jewish Republicans are all in with MAGA

And while Jewish Dems are having their moment of reflection and are no longer willing to put their votes and funds behind candidates deemed anti-Israel, Jewish Republicans seem to be just fine with their presidential candidate hurling hurtful accusations at fellow Jewish Americans.

On March 19, during an interview on Sebastian Gorka’s internet show, Trump argued that “any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion. They hate everything about Israel and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.”  

The offensiveness of this comment is obvious—yet not even the claim that three quarters of American Jews who vote Democratic hate their religion and should be ashamed of themselves was met with any pushback from Jewish Republicans: The Republican Jewish Coalition, which two weeks earlier had endorsed Trump, remained silent. As did his major Jewish donors. Donald Trump’s continuous attacks on the Jewish American community aren’t going to cost him a single Jewish vote. On the other hand, he’s clearly not on any path to winning over new Jewish voters.

5. Religious divide? What religious divide?

For a little more than an hour last Friday, it seemed possible to imagine that Jews, Muslims and Christians can somehow build a bridge to a better future. 

Gathered at Saint Mark’s Presbyterian Church just outside the Washington Beltway, clergy and followers of all the three faiths joined in prayer and in song for peace and healing in Gaza and Israel. What made this interfaith vigil so special was the role reversal: A rabbi praying for the lives of Palestinian children in Gaza, an imam raising his voice for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Take a moment to watch Imam Refai Arefin of The Islamic Community Center of Potomac, who called Hamas’s October 7 attack “a clear violation of everything that our faith teaches,” and Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky, who asked that children of Gaza ”know that I, a Jew, a rabbi, a person who loves Israel, prayed for them.”

2 thoughts on “Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

  1. Sheldon says:

    I’ve always been frustrated that Jews who strongly support Israel still vote the democrat party line. It’s as if they don’t want to recognize the Progressive Democrat political party is anti-Israel, anti-Zionist. Worse yet, the moderate democrat politicians who support Israel are mostly silent. This silence serves to support the noisier Left side of their party. We all saw how much the Left Wing protested against Israel’s government prior to October 7. Liberal rabbis preached from the pulpit against Israel’s Conservative Knesset and President. It’s as if they didn’t understand their criticism served to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. We’ve seen Biden is now softening on his support for the Jewish state in hopes MI Arabs will support him in November. The good news is we’re seeing prominent Democrat Liberals like Alan Dershowitz and others stating they will not vote for Joe Biden again. Let’s hope more Jews follow his lead and that support for the Jewish State becomes the number one campaign issue for Jews in 2024.

  2. Davida Brown says:

    American and Israeli politics are in conflict…it is certainly a time to look to other sources for help in this challenging situation. Politics is not the be all and end all…it is but one means to the end, which is all spiritual in substance (not a contradiction.) The God of Israel is in control; He is always on His throne. He gave all His people His Word, the Bible, to inform, encourage, and make us aware of what is to come. Shouldn’t we now, of all times, check Him out on this? Faith is not blind or naive…it is: “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

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