In his Oval Office speech following his trip to Israel last week, President Joe Biden told the nation, “We’re facing an inflection point in history.” He was referring to the Middle East, but his message extends to broader events at home and abroad as well.
He declared the success of Israel and Ukraine is “vital to our national security.” It was both to reassure our allies at war but also to counter the growing isolationism and xenophobia on the American Right.
Echoing FDR at the start of World War II, he called America the arsenal of democracy. It was a subtle poke at his predecessor and likely opponent, who in his first term – and now campaigning for a second – called for pulling out of NATO, the foundation of western security that Biden has expanded and strengthened.
Biden gave his love, sympathy, and support very publicly while in private cautioning Netanyahu against repeating America’s post-9/11 mistakes by rushing into wars without clear plans, adequate preparation, and realistic goals.
A wave of sympathy for Israel and Jews after the October 7 Hamas massacre was too soon followed by outbursts of antisemitism and pro-Palestinian sympathy as Israel began to strike back.
It showed up in a letter by Harvard students calling Israel “entirely responsible” for the Hamas attack, and by the responses of university administrators, corporate leaders, and other public figures who agreed or adopted positions of neutrality and sought to find a moral equivalence between a democratic Jewish state and an Islamist terror organization.
Conversely, when Biden pressed Netanyahu to permit humanitarian aid for Gazans, he was denounced from the right by Republican senators Josh Hawley (MO), Marco Rubio and Rick Scott (FL), and Bill Hagerty (TN). Trump called humanitarian aid for Gaza “totally inappropriate.”
One of the bitterest voices belonged to Morton Klein, head of the extremist Zionist Organization of America. “Joe Biden is the most hostile to Israel president we’ve ever had,” he said. He accused Biden of having “appointed the most antisemitic, anti-Israel people to important posts we’ve ever seen.” He singled out two Jews, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to combat antisemitism.
Hamas may have forced a turning point for Jewish voters in the United States, but the direction of that turn is unclear. Republicans say Biden’s call for humanitarian aid to Gaza and his urging Netanyahu to delay the invasion to give time for hostage negotiations, will drive hardline Jewish voters in their direction.
Democrats contend Biden’s immediate support, warm embrace, his wartime visit, and quick shipments of needed arms will win over Orthodox Jews who normally vote Republican, especially in light of Trump’s attacks on Netanyahu and praise for Hezbollah. The devout Roman Catholic from Delaware is currently more popular in Israel than any Jewish politician.
A turning point for US Republicans and Netanyahu
ARAB-AMERICANS, Muslims, and Progressives, however, have expressed anger toward Biden for what they feel is his one-sided approach to the conflict. At the same time, his presumed opponent, Trump, told an Iowa campaign audience that in his second term he will bring back his Muslim ban “even bigger than before.”
The week was also a turning point for Republicans, who will have to show they not only can govern but actually want to, which some in their own ranks are beginning to doubt. In the House of Representatives, they looked like a circular firing squad, unable to pick a Speaker. An abrasive bully and election denier, Rep. Jim Jordan, was soundly rejected in what’s been called a “career-defining flameout” despite his strong endorsements from Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, and Steve Bannon.
They’re trying again. Most of the contenders are also deniers, raising the question of how their leader could negotiate with a president whose legitimacy he denies. Will Trump oppose a nominee for speaker who doesn’t embrace his election lies?
The chutzpadik deposed speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who will be remembered not only as the briefest but probably worst speaker in history, blamed his demise on the opposition Democrats for failing to rescue him from his party’s “burn it all down” crazies after he had repeatedly trashed the other party and broke his commitments.
Trump had another inflection point that goes beyond his diminishing influence on the Hill when two of his lawyers flipped and agreed to testify against him in his Georgia racketeering case. Making bad news worse for the twice-impeached, oft-indicted former president was that his former lawyers’ pleas dashed his remaining lawyers’ hopes that the pair’s trial would reveal the strategy and new details of the state’s case.
He did himself no favors either when he praised Hezbollah terrorists as “very smart,” trashed the Israeli prime minister for old grievances based on his own lies, and falsely tried to link Hamas’s October 7 massacre of Israelis to the Biden administration’s decision to release $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets in South Korea to a prisoner swap. Those funds still have not been released and will not go to the Tehran government.
Hamas’s barbarian attack was a personal inflection point for Netanyahu as well. It marked the end of his public career, and if he had any sense of honor he would admit it and resign now instead of dragging it out and trying to blame the IDF, the security forces, and anyone and everyone else for his own failed policies that led to this disaster.
It is time to turn over the government to a centrist national unity party and leave – taking with him his dysfunctional anti-democratic collection of religious zealots, racists, and ultra-nationalists.
It was an inflection week. We seem to have been having a lot of those lately. What will happen this week to change the course of history?
The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant, lobbyist, and former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.