President Joe Biden today, October 18, landed in Tel Aviv, Israel, as part of a whistlestop tour intended to show support for the US ally following Hamas’ attack earlier this month. Visits with foreign leaders during times of war pay dividends for politicians in terms of optics but come with significant risk – even more so when diplomatic subtlety is required. Whether the president will be able to avoid both the pitfalls of a nation at war and his own notorious record of gaffes has become a question on which more than just his failing reputation rests.
The president was greeted at Ben Gurion airport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog. As per earlier statements by the commander-in-chief, his purpose in the divided region is to “stand in solidarity in the face of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack and to consult on next steps.” Certainly, by many of those at home in the US, this will be seen as a power move by a president unafraid and leading from the front. And yet wide support comes with several caveats.
If the principal reason for the jaunt was to show solidarity with Israel, his intended follow-on visit to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi raises questions. Is he also showing solidarity with other world leaders who may prove hostile to Israel’s interests? Does he intend to draw yet more red lines (the latest example of which was crossed within hours by Hezbollah in Lebanon)? And perhaps most importantly, is Joe Biden the right man for international diplomacy?
The initial schedule has already been upended, with foreign dignitaries deciding to cancel their engagements with Biden in light of the destruction of a Palestinian hospital. At least 500 people were reportedly killed on Tuesday, Oct. 17, in an explosion at the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City. Each side has blamed the other for the tragedy.*
“From the analysis of the operational systems of the IDF, an enemy rocket barrage was carried out towards Israel, which passed through the vicinity of the hospital when it was hit,” an Israel Defense Forces official announced. “According to intelligence information, from several sources we have, the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization is responsible for the failed shooting that hit the hospital.” By contrast, Hamas states unequivocally that Israel launched an airstrike at the hospital. A spokesman told Fox, “After the barbaric attack, it’s too early to talk about this.”
Biden wrote shortly after news of the explosion was released, “I am outraged and deeply saddened by the explosion at the Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, and the terrible loss of life that resulted. Immediately upon hearing this news, I spoke with King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and have directed my national security team to continue gathering information about what exactly happened.”
“The United States stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict and we mourn the patients, medical staff and other innocents killed or wounded in this tragedy,” he concluded.
The planned meeting with King Abdullah, President Abbas, and President Fattah el-Sissi was swiftly canceled in the wake of the hospital bombing, suggesting that Biden’s position on who was responsible is a sticking point in any potential accords or negotiations in the region. Whatever diplomatic entreaties the president was hoping to achieve during this brief tour are almost certainly now non-viable.
In neighboring Lebanon, hundreds of protestors have launched an attack on the US Embassy in Beirut as Hezbollah calls for a Day of Rage in retaliation. Other embassies around the world, both US and Israeli, have seen protests outside their gates. Many fear another potential Benghazi.
In Dearborn, MI, thousands of protestors gathered in the streets to show their support for Palestine and their anger at Israel. One attendee said, “To our brothers and sisters in Gaza, we hear you. We’re with you. We’re standing with you. You’re not alone. We’re doing our best even all the way from Detroit, Michigan. We’re going to do our best to support you. To know you are loved, you are heard by us, we will be your voice here.”
It was a scene that echoed a pro-Palestinian rally held in New York last week by the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that boasts more than 50 elected Democrat politicians as members. During the event, people called for the destruction of Israel and displayed swastika images.
Democrats Divided on Israel
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) wasted little time in supporting Hamas’ position on the hospital bombing. She wrote on X (née Twitter):
“Israel just bombed the Baptist Hospital killing 500 Palestinians (doctors, children, patients) just like that.
@POTUS this is what happens when you refuse to facilitate a ceasefire & help de-escalate.
Your war and destruction only approach has opened my eyes and many Palestinian Americans and Muslims Americans like me. We will remember where you stood.”
This condemnation of Joe Biden by his own party appears to be just the start of an unraveling of relations both domestically and abroad. It is no secret that a number of elected Democrats are more in line with the Palestinian position than that of the Israelis. Some House members have expressed their own messages of solidarity with Palestine, undercutting the supposed unity of Biden’s party. This position is echoed by Democrat voters. In fact, as Liberty Nation’s Editor-in-Chief Leesa K. Donner reported on a recent poll:
“Shockingly for Jewish Democrats, it was Republicans who answered all four questions in the Rasmussen survey with the most robust support of the Jewish state. This across-the-board political shift appears to be recent but clear.”
The survey suggested that “Republicans back Israel more than Democrats by a margin of 56% to 32%,” a stat that Joe Biden must consider if he wishes to emerge from this official visit stronger than when he left.
A Perilous Road
The president must walk a tightrope to avoid diplomatic calamity as tensions rise and rhetoric escalates to a point from which there may be no return. His party – while mostly united – is suffering from a thousand tiny cuts courtesy of its more progressive members. His voters are edging towards the opposite view to that which he has publicly espoused. And Middle Eastern leaders are canceling meetings in a display of disrespect while still holding out their hands for US taxpayer dollars in the billions.
Barack Obama’s former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in his 2014 memoir that Mr. Biden had “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” It’s a position Mr. Gates reiterated in a more recent 60 Minutes interview dealing with the aftermath of the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. Claiming “solidarity” and then visiting with nominally aggravating regional leaders could be seen – especially by Israel – as a continuation of foreign policy faux pas. But the president could also be kicking the hornets’ nest on the home front.
Joe Biden is in an unenviable position. He may well break his forty-year habit of being on the wrong side of foreign policy decisions and actually do some good in terms of easing hostilities and saving the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. But if so, it is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory that costs him both his remaining reputation and the so-far unwavering support of his own party for the 2024 election. For the sake of a swift end to the unfolding tragedy, one hopes it is a price he would gladly pay.
*Mounting evidence suggests that the explosion was caused by a Hamas rocket.