A guest editorial by Martin Raffle.
If you are still on the fence based on a (mis)perception that Donald Trump has been great for Israel and a concern that Joe Biden may be soft on antisemitism and Israel’s security, this column is meant for you. While surveys show that for most Jewish voters Israel is not a high priority, Israeli security is among the most important issues I consider in casting my ballot. This November, I will vote without any hesitation for Joe Biden. Here is why.
Israel’s interests are best served when the United States is strong militarily and economically, respected by the international community and able to meet its many challenges with a sense of unity and determination. Meeting for the first time in 1961, President Kennedy asked Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion what he could do for Israel. Ben-Gurion replied, “Mr. President, be a good president to the United States.”
Biden will be a “good” president to the U.S. and to Israel. He shows deep respect for the importance of maintaining bipartisan American support for Israel. This is vital, recognizing that over time there are shifts in Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses. It is the centerpiece of AIPAC’s pro-Israel advocacy.
As U.S. senator and vice president, Biden has been a consistent and rock-solid supporter of Israel for over forty years. The Democratic Party platform enshrined his centrist approach, which views a strong, secure, and democratic Israel as “vital” to U.S. interests. It conveys an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge and to the maintenance of American military support without any conditions.
Biden’s commitment on Iran is enshrined in the party platform: “Democrats support a comprehensive diplomatic effort to extend constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and address Iran’s other threatening activities, including its regional aggression, ballistic missile program, and domestic repression.”
Biden speaks out clearly against all antisemitism regardless of its source. His platform asserts opposition to any effort “to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”
On the other hand, these last four years teach us that Trump has not been a “good” president to the U.S. He did not create the pandemic, our biggest health crisis in a century, which, also, has caused economic devastation to millions and deprived our children of their educations. But, as president, it was his responsibility to provide decisive national leadership in getting us through it with the least amount of pain possible – and, almost 200,000 deaths later, he has failed.
Our standing in the international community, most importantly with our Western European allies and NATO, is at a low point. The president, from day one, made it clear that his policy was “America first,” which meant pulling out of important international agreements. Trump’s inexplicable bromance with Vladimir Putin — the Russian dictator who has long undermined American democracy and election processes and continues doing so to this day – remains a mystery.
Turning to the Middle East, Trump has engaged in several high profile but largely symbolic gestures that have had no constructive impact on Israeli security and the peace process. Unlike Biden, Trump has intentionally sought to erode traditional bipartisan support for Israel by irresponsibly accusing Democrats of being anti-Israel and even antisemitic. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a welcome symbolic gesture, but it did not prompt a rush of the international community to follow the American lead. Thus, the final status of the city remains subject to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as stipulated by previously signed agreements. Recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights also was merely a symbolic gesture. Nobody was pressing Israel to leave this strategically important area, or even to contemplate negotiations with a broken Syria. Contribution to Israeli security – zero.
Whether or not the Iran nuclear deal advanced U.S. and Israeli security interests is debatable. Military experts in the U.S. and Israel have differing views. But even many who opposed the deal in 2015 were against Trump’s decision to walk away from it, a step that shattered the international sanctions consensus the Obama administration had carefully crafted together with our allies. Consequently, today Iran is considerably closer to possessing nuclear weapons capability than it was when Trump took office in 2017. And now the U.S. is separated from our allies in facing Iran, which is why the UN Security Council recently rejected an American proposal to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran. In addition, the U.S. ability to bring about reinstatement of all the sanctions against Iran adopted by the UN five years, the so-called snapback provision, is compromised because we no longer are a party to the JCPOA.
While U.S. involvement helped, we can mostly thank a hegemonic Shiite Iran, not Trump, for Israel’s peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is their shared concern about Iran’s malign activities in the region that drives Sunni Arab states such as the UAE into Israel’s arms. Because Trump has broken diplomatic relations with the Palestinians and withdrawn assistance to them, he is not a position to take advantage of growing Israeli-Arab normalization to advance the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
U.S.-based violent antisemitic incidents from Neo-Nazis and other far right groups have spiked these last three years. Massacres of Jews in Pittsburgh and Poway will not be forgotten. Trump may not be antisemitic himself, but, as the highly respected Jewish scholar Professor Deborah Lipstadt has observed, the president clearly is an antisemitism enabler.
Trump’s politics of division, his constant lying, the misogyny, xenophobia and racism, the chaos, his immorality and corruption, his sheer ineptitude have left us scarred and exhausted. Enough! Joe Biden possesses the character and vision to heal our wounds and bring us together. That will be good for this country, for the Jewish community and for Israel.
ABOUT THE AUTHORMartin J. Raffel, until his retirement in 2014, served for 27 years as senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), an umbrella body with 16 national member organizations and over 120 locally based organizations (JCRCs). He was JCPA’s lead professional on matters related to Israel, world Jewry and international human rights. In 2009, Raffel took the lead in organizing the Israel Action Network, a joint strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America and JCPA that seeks to combat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy. He currently serves on the Board Of Democratic Jewish Outreach.