After the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks, the Biden administration and most congressional Democrats stood with Israel to a surprising degree. But today that resolve has begun to crack.
At the beginning, President Biden's support gave Israel great comfort. In an opinion piece for The Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon cast the president in the role of Israel's unifier and inspirational leader. "Israel is facing its own Battle of Britain moment," he wrote. "And the leader stepping into the role of Winston Churchill – raising morale, uniting the nation, instilling a sense of hope, articulating hard truths – is not Netanyahu but Biden."
During President Biden's Oct. 19 visit to the Holy Land, he said, "I come to Israel with a single message: You are not alone." He also said, "I don't believe you have to be a Jew to be a Zionist, and I am a Zionist." Just a few weeks ago, he said Israel will stop fighting "when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to murder, abuse and do horrific things to the Israelis."
On Oct. 20, the White House released a statement on Biden's phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It said, "The president reaffirmed the United States' support for Israel's right to defend itself and obligation to protect its citizens."
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Biden's backing of Israel against Hamas soon began to alienate members of his political base. A new Associated Press poll shows that 50% of Democrats support the president's handling of the current conflict, but 46% do not. It's difficult to be reelected when one's own party is divided. And this is not an obscure foreign policy disagreement. Democrats on both sides feel passionate about this issue.
At first, the president was against a ceasefire until the hostages were rescued and Hamas incapacitated. But as his party protested, he began to call for, not a ceasefire, but a "pause." He got the pause he wanted, but it was not enough. A large part of his team wants a "permanent pause." But a ceasefire now would allow Hamas to regroup, rebuild and rearm. It would guarantee more rounds of bloodthirsty assaults on Israeli civilians.
In the Washington Post, Michael Birnbaum wrote, "What began as a 'bear hug' strategy of intense backing by President Biden has become one in which U.S. officials, facing growing blowback at home and internationally, have distanced themselves from scorched-earth Israeli tactics."
Let me briefly take issue with the idea that Israel has been fighting a "scorched-earth" campaign in Gaza. When a tornado strikes, news cameras do not point at the part of town still standing. They show the dramatic stuff, the damage. This sometimes leads viewers to wrongly imagine an entire town in ruins. It's the same in Gaza. Photos and video show the damage, creating an illusion of total destruction. But Israel has not used "scorched-earth" tactics. If you look in the background of many photos, you will clearly see vast portions of Gaza still standing. And, even using the inflated casualty counts put out by Hamas, it is nothing like genocide.
Nevertheless, the Biden administration's strong initial support for the Jewish state is already waning. It is now pushing Israel toward policies that would ensure an ongoing cycle of violence in the region. That, in turn, ensures continued poverty in Gaza and continued Israeli strictures against Gazans in order to keep Israelis safe from terrorism.