By Medea Benjamin , Ariel Gold
July 08, 2020 "Information
Clearing House" -
US presidential candidate Joe Biden wants you to
believe that he is opposed to Israel’s likely
annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, which
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to carry out
“I do not support annexation,”
he said during
a recent call with American Jewish donors. And yet,
Biden’s senior foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken,
has insisted that
under no circumstances - not even the annexation of the
West Bank - would Biden consider reducing or withholding
US military aid to Israel.
In addition, contrary to
the position of his former boss, US President Barack
Obama, Biden also pledged that, if elected, he would
keep disagreements with Israeli policies private.
Questioning US-Israel relations
That’s not what the American people want.
In a new Washington Post poll,
67 percent of respondents said that it is “acceptable”
or actually the duty of elected representatives to
question the Israel-US relationship. Among Democrats,
that number was an overwhelming 81 percent.
The call to be more openly critical of Israeli policy
reflects Israel’s continued lurch to the right and US
President Donald Trump’s embrace of that, as well as
diligent campaigning by Palestinian-Americans and
progressive American Jews.
Another factor was the
example set by Jewish presidential candidate Bernie
Sanders, who talked
passionately about Palestinian rights.
The sentiment that US
leaders must take a critical look at Israeli policies is
reflected in a letter recently
sent to Biden by more than 100 groups, calling on him to
adopt policies towards the Israeli government and
Palestinian people “based on the principles of equality
and justice for all”.
Endorsers include the American Friends Service
Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, CODEPINK, the
Council on American-Islamic Relations, IfNotNow and
Jewish Voice for Peace, among others.
The letter arose out of concern that Biden’s positions
on Israel/Palestine are to the right of those of Obama,
who openly clashed with Israel on issues such as illegal
settlements and the Iran nuclear deal - and only a pinch
less hawkish than Trump's.
Biden’s positions were made
painfully clear in a statement on his campaign website
Biden and the Jewish Community: A record and a plan of
friendship, support, and action”.
It opened by conflating the Jewish state with Jewish
values and went on to brag about Biden’s role in
increasing military aid to Israel at the end of the
It also promised that Biden, in violation of the first
amendment, would continue attacks on individuals and
organisations that boycott Israel for political reasons
and referred to Palestinian “choices” to commit
Within days of the statement’s release, the backlash was
so fierce that the degrading language of Palestinian
“choices” was removed - but the statement remains a
testament to Biden’s unwavering support for the
rightwing Netanyahu government.
While Biden is tone deaf to changing US sentiments
towards Israel, many in the Democratic party are leaving
him in the dust.
The sea change among
Democrats in general, and young Jews in particular, was
best captured during a few key moments in the Democratic
presidential race. The first was in March 2019, when
most candidates refused
to attend a conference
sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), recognising the pro-Israel lobby as
an impediment to achieving a just and lasting peace in
Another key moment was at
an October 2019 conference, organised by the liberal
Jewish group J Street, when the audience burst into
applause after then-candidate Sanders suggested leveraging the
$3.8bn the US gives Israel annually towards pushing
Israel to respect Palestinian human rights.
During the primaries,
Sanders was also lauded for accurately referring to
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a murderer and
Netanyahu as a racist.
Striving for fairness and equality
When Sanders suspended his run for the Democratic
nomination, Biden indicated that he would integrate some
of the politics of the party’s progressive wing to
reflect the energised grassroots movement the Sanders
campaign had built.
He set up task
forces to focus on
healthcare, immigration, education, criminal justice
reform, climate change and the economy, and tapped
popular politicians such as Progressive Caucus co-chair
Pramila Jayapal and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But no task force was set up for foreign policy, and
Biden has done nothing to incorporate progressive
concerns into his Israel/Palestine platform.
That’s why the letter to Biden by more than 100
organisations is so critical.
It points out that by giving Israel “unlimited
diplomatic protection and massive military financing”,
the US “has enabled the country to entrench its
occupation, expand its illegal settlements, impose a
13-year-long siege and wage three wars against Gaza,
[and] pass laws that officially deny equal rights to
Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, all under the
veneer of peacemaking”.
The letter lays
out the tenets of a strategy based on fairness and
equality, including: explicit opposition to Israel’s
occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza;
recognition of Israel’s obligations towards the
inhabitants of Gaza; support for conditioning US
military funding to Israel on an end to Israeli
violations of Palestinian human rights and adherence to
all relevant US laws; and ensuring that no US dollars
contribute to Israel’s military detention, interrogation
or other ill-treatment of Palestinian children.
Other points include:
calling on Israel’s government to repeal the Jewish nation-state
law and to ensure that
non-Jewish citizens in the country enjoy equal rights;
opposing the use of US aid against protected
populations, including in Gaza; supporting Palestinian
refugee rights; vowing to relocate the US embassy back
to Tel Aviv; promising to cooperate with the
International Criminal Court (ICC)’s investigation into
alleged war crimes committed by all sides in the West
Bank and Gaza; and rejecting US recognition of Israeli
sovereignty over any territories now occupied, absent an
internationally recognised final agreement with
Maintaining the status quo
The signatories want Biden to oppose illegal and immoral
Israeli policies, such as annexation, with deeds, not
just words. To be fair, Biden is far from the only
Democratic party leader paying lip service to opposing
annexation while acting to maintain the status quo.
Recently, 120 lawmakers in the House and 30 in the
Senate sent letters voicing their opposition to
They included such stalwart backers
of Israel as Chuck
Schumer, Robert Menendez, Ben Cardin and Steny Hoyer.
Hoyer is known for being
the closest member of Congress to AIPAC, and Schumer,
Cardin and Menendez were three
of the only four Senate
Democrats to support Israel’s opposition to the Iran
nuclear deal in 2015.
They are also leaders of legislation to outlaw the
boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, even
at the expense of the first amendment.
While it is a remarkable achievement that so many
Democratic lawmakers registered their opposition to
annexation, without measures to hold Israel accountable
such statements are toothless.
With annexation imminent, a case pending in the
International Criminal Court for war crimes and Gaza
trapped in a 13-year siege complicated by a pandemic,
the stakes are high.
Biden’s unconditional support for Israel’s rightwing
government is not only less and less popular among
Americans, it also guarantees continued repression
against Palestinians and continued unrest in the
Let’s hope this letter shows Biden the widespread
support for him to shed his “Israel-right-or-wrong”
position and instead openly and explicitly distinguish
right from wrong.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of
CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books,
including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics
of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Ariel Gold is the national co-director of CODEPINK
Post your comment below
views expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of Information Clearing House.