Joe Biden and the Palestinians: Reflections from an Anti-Zionist Jewish American

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with US politician Joe Biden. (Photo: File)

By Benay Blend

There are many reasons that voters are giving to justify support for Joe Biden. The most important and perhaps justifiably so is that it amounts to a vote against Trump. Hatred of the President is so intense that it’s hard to see the bigger picture. What exactly does a vote for Biden mean in the larger scheme of things?

For me, it means accepting the candidate’s conflation of Zionism and Judaism, an assumption that the Jewish community speaks with one voice in its 100 %, no-questions-asked support for Israel. For example, under the subtitle “Joe Biden and the Jewish Community: A Record and a Plan of Friendship, Support and Action,” Biden’s website declares:

“Vice President Joe Biden has consistently made solidarity with Israel, combatting anti-Semitism, and fighting for social justice pillars of his decades-long career in public service. As President, Joe Biden will continue to ensure that the Jewish State, the Jewish people, and Jewish values have the unbreakable support of the United States.”

Solidarity with Israel, a country which is hardly a mainstay of social justice, has little to do with fighting for human rights unless he erases Palestinians from the picture, which of course he does. After searching in vain through Biden’s speeches, Philip Weiss relates that “there is hardly a reference to Palestinians except as footdraggers on the peace process,” though of course, he is “all for the two-state solution,” though that has been dead in the water for years.

Moreover, by implying that solidarity with Israel is synonymous with fighting against anti-Semitism Biden’s comment should send chills up activists’ spines, for it proposes that any criticism of the Jewish state, even to criticize its gross disregard for human rights, is anti-Semitic.

In a speech to the Israel lobby group AIPAC in 2013, Biden said:

“Let me tell you what worries me the most today — what worries me more than at any time in the 40 years I’ve been engaged, and it is different than any time in my career.  And that is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state.  That is the single most dangerous, pernicious change that has taken place, in my humble opinion, since I’ve been engaged.”

Indeed, Biden’s webpage promises to “firmly reject the BDS movement — which singles out Israel and too often veers into anti-Semitism — and fight other efforts to delegitimize Israel on the global stage.” Moreover, in the original version, now edited perhaps to remove the offending phrase, Biden charged that not only does BDS wrongly punish the Zionist state, it also “let[s] Palestinians off the hook for their choices,” whatever those choices might be.

Biden is also suggesting that the Jewish community is homogenous, no fissures there due to class, race, gender, or really any other kinds of difference. There are few groupings in the world that could make that claim, let alone the American Jewish community.

As a Jewish anti-Zionist from a working-class, single-parent, Ashkenazi background, I know first-hand that there are many cultural, economic, and political differences within the American Jewish community, so Biden’s notion that we are all somehow the same rankles me.

In “Biden, Israel, and the Palestinian People,” Josh Ruebner explains:

“Biden’s conflation of old-school Israel advocacy with the supposed interests of an imagined monolithic ‘Jewish community’ is not only a misreading of actual divisions within Jewish- American communities toward Israel. In the Trump era of unabashed white supremacy, this presumed dual loyal trope also inadvertently contributes to the ‘othering’ of Jewish-Americans and helps fuel the deadly resurgence of antisemitism in the United States.”

What exactly is Joe Biden’s position on the Palestinians, and why should this be a problem for anti-Zionist voters?

While some LEVs (Lesser Evil Voters) claim that Biden might reverse some of the damage that four years of Trump have ravaged on the country, in terms of climate change, LGBT rights, and women’s issues, there is no question that his stance on Palestine is a “throwback,” as Ruebner contends, to a time when both Republicans and Democrats disregarded Palestinian rights in equal measure. In short, there would most likely be no compromise with the more progressive wing of the party.

There are many countries who have done the same or worse than Israel, so why single this issue out as a litmus test for not giving away my vote? In short, those countries are not committing genocide in my name.

Why should other voters who have no personal connection to Palestine care about Biden’s political position? While Israel might not be committing atrocities in their name, Biden claims that Israel and the United States share similar values, a mutual worldview that makes sense of a strong alliance.

Racist, anti-immigrant, neo-liberal economies—alas Biden might be right on this for both countries share similar settler-colonial histories.

In a recent interview, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz puts the recent “reopen” protests into an historical context that makes this very clear. Just as Israel practices a policy of ethnic cleansing, so the procedure of “eliminating people,” she says, is “baked in [America’s] founding, Constitution and military.”

It’s always there “as a possibility,” she says, as it is now for anyone with a compromised immune system, “this idea to just get rid of them,” “cull out” the elderly, the poor so that the economy can re-open.

Will Biden reverse his course on Palestine, given that there is a growing push from his Democratic base to do so? Ruebner takes heart in “Biden’s adoption of Sanders’s and Warren’s plans on college tuition and bankruptcy reform along with his appropriation of their rhetoric” to lend hope that he is indeed “a shape-shifting, unprincipled politician willing to adopt policies and positions to bolster his popularity.” If that is the case, he continues, Biden could “flip-flop” on Israel too, if there is enough pressure from his party.

Because Biden has long held fast to his Zionist position, not to mention the power that AIPAC lends to the equation, I am not so convinced that he will shape-shift on this issue. Given his “unstinting support for Israel,” Ruebner admits that it’s “highly unlikely, unless his previous rhetoric has just been a shtick to be discarded when needed.” Granted that in this case, Biden is a true believer, such hoped for waffling is doubtful.

For readers who have come thus far, who are looking for definitive solutions, I have none. In a democracy, voters have the freedom to make their own choices, though in this case, the options are fairly limited.

Biden’s website states that it was after Trump’s failure to call out the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Charlottesville, he decided to enter the fray. “The fight is for the soul of our nation,” Biden claims. But does a settler-colonial country really have a soul? If his role model is the Zionist state, then my answer here is no.

If voters really want to change the course of both countries, then actions outside of electoral politics that take heed of what Palestinians say they need will prove the most successful. It’s true that Palestinians were resisting the Occupation before Trump, and they will be doing so after Trump, no matter who wins the American election. But we can no longer tie ourselves to fascist nations without fully turning into one ourselves.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)