Biden v. Victory

April 16, 2024

By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

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The mischievous machinations of the American government engender some obvious questions: why doesn’t Joe Biden want Israel to win the war with Hamas? Why does Joe Biden want Hamas to survive to rape, torture, rocket, and murder another day? Conversely, why does Joe Biden express unambiguous support for Israel under attack from Iran and even lend American resources to the effort? After all, how can a rational thinker distinguish between Iran, a terrorist nation, and Hezbollah and Hamas, who are the terrorist proxies of Iran, the terrorist nation?

Biden’s conduct towards Israel is best understood as equivocal. His words – especially in the wake of the October 7 Hamas massacre – were encouraging and his ongoing provision of armaments to Israel is significant and welcome. Biden’s assistance was first accompanied by advice, which has now mutated into diktats as if Israel is an American vassal. No other American ally has received such treatment. The aid has become the equivalent of golden shackles, restraining Israel from pursuing our interests and securing our land and people. That Biden has now essentially embedded the American military with Israel’s in the conflict with Iran – at least in the realm of planning – should also be perceived as a mixed blessing. Biden has been most unhelpful while condemning Israel’s military tactics and the conduct of the war with Hamas. This latter indictment is deeply troubling, even offensive, because Biden offers no alternative strategy (except defeat), does not acknowledge the extreme measures that Israel has taken to protect not-so-innocent civilian life (at the price of our own soldiers’ lives and well-being), and completely discounts the far greater loss of civilian life wrought by the United States military in its recent wars, including on Biden’s own watch.

The United States incinerated (there is no better word) hundreds of thousands of Japanese and German civilians during World War II. As the esteemed Senator Tom Cotton pointed out last week, the United States also refused to provide humanitarian aid to Japanese and German civilians during World War II. The horrors! Not helping your enemy during wartime! And yet Biden expects this from Israel. Why?

Some will conclude that Joe Biden is just another run-of-the-mill Jew hater but I find that explanation facile, superficial, and unprovable. We never know what lurks in a person’s heart but it is just too convenient, although it is entirely plausible that he has Jew haters on his staff who are influencing him. Nevertheless, I think the answer lies elsewhere, perhaps in a more subtle form of bigotry.

I thought of this while reading Dara Horn’s memoir, provocatively titled “People Love Dead Jews” (2021). The Holocaust provoked in many circles, although of course not universal, sympathy for Jews, soul-searching about the depth of evil to which human beings can sink, and anguished cries of “never again,” all of which in retrospect had little effect on the existence of Jew hatred and Jew haters. But the world soon lost interest in dead Jews and only encountered the Holocaust or other predations with one objective in mind. She laments: “Dead Jews are supposed to teach us about the beauty of the world and the wonders of redemption – otherwise, what was the point of killing them in the first place?” Even Holocaust novels are supposed to be uplifting.

In other words, dead Jews provide a “service” to mankind. There is something pure and untainted about mourning the victims of the Arab massacre of October 7. Those victims died a “perfect” death, victims of unadulterated evil, of the bestial element of the human form. To this way of thinking, their pristine death is marred by the messiness and unpleasantness of self-defense, of armies and infantries, of bombing and destruction. Certainly, Jews have the right of self-defense, as long as it is not used too forcefully, seriously, and aggressively, and as long as that right does not cause collateral damage or unnecessary casualties.

It goes without saying that this approach to self-defense or even waging war against genocidal enemies is only applied to Jews and the Jewish state. No other country in the world, today and throughout history, is expected to refrain from defeating an enemy who invades its territory, murders, and abuses its citizens, and still holds scores of them hostage. No other country in the world would even entertain returning to the aggressor the territory from which it unleashes its repeated aggressions – and to do it repeatedly. Israel is not only expected to return Gaza to its enemy – again – but will be considered by the world the aggressor if it – wisely – refuses to do so this time.

There was something immaculate about Biden’s initial response to the massacre – the quick visit, the sympathy, the outrage, the determination to fight evil. And then Israel ruined that idyllic scene by going to war and inflicting tremendous harm on its enemy, with the war still in progress. In other words, the “live Jews” in their intemperate desire to remain alive spoiled the good feelings much of the world had in grieving over the dead Jews.

Yet even that answer seems too trite to explain Biden’s hostility towards Israel’s government, its prime minister and even its people. After all, Hamas, Iran, and radical Islam are enemies of America as they are of Israel. Certainly, there is some truth to the political calculus and Biden’s pandering for Arab votes. (It should be humiliating to American Jews that Biden, now openly hostile to Israel, nevertheless takes their votes for granted. That might be both his soft contempt for liberal American Jews as well as an accurate assessment of where are their hearts, heads, wallets, and ballots.) But I think the answer is deeper and simpler than just this election.

In January 1987, then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger filed a sentencing memorandum with the federal court that would shortly sentence Jonathan Pollard to life in prison (in violation of the spirit of the plea bargain which he entered). Weinberger asserted that Pollard had “substantially harmed” the United States and demanded “severe punishment.” How Pollard did that was left a bit vague, and the memorandum released to the public is redacted almost beyond the point of legibility. What does emerge is that the American view of its alliance with Israel is different from what Jews and Israelis ordinarily assume. Weinberger wrote (39-40): “I cannot overemphasize that the United States strives hard to promote peace and stability in the Middle East. In doing so, it is not unusual that Israel and the US find themselves with differing approaches and perspectives.”

To give one example that was not redacted, Pollard provided Israel with information about the location of PLO headquarters in Tunisia that facilitated an Israeli Air Force strike on October 1, 1985. That raid destroyed the base and eliminated dozens of terrorists. Weinberger deemed that attack to be contrary to US interests because Tunisia had graciously given a home to the PLO after that murderous terrorist group was banished from Lebanon. As such, Weinberger perceived Tunisia as “a power friendly to the United States” and the attack on the PLO headquarters therefore “to the detriment of the United States (32-33). Lost on Weinberger, apparently, was that the “humanitarian assistance” provided by Tunisia was to a terrorist group sworn to destroy Israel and attack any Jew across the world. How can this be? Why would the United States want the PLO to survive?

Here we come to the crux of the problem, and we feel its repercussions today with the Biden about-face regarding Israel. For sure, the United States sees Israel as an ally that can serve American interests in the region. Thus, the United States wants an Israel that is strong – but not too strong. An Israel that is “too strong” is less susceptible to American pressure. An Israel that is “too strong” – e.g., an Israel that has defeated Hamas, driven it from Gaza, and remains in control of the Gaza Strip – is not an Israel that can be bullied into indulging the two-state delusion. From this perspective, an Israel that is too strong, that completely liquidates its enemy, which puts the fear of G"d into any future potential foe, and that deters any foe from attacking – that Israel is too powerful for America’s perception of its interests in the Middle East.

As such, an Israel in possession of Judea and Samaria is construed by the United States as “too strong” and also too reluctant to surrender it to its enemy. That is why Biden will wax indignant over the non-existent “settler violence” and not condemn the murder of Jews who live there, as we have just experienced again, and for many years already. To Biden, Jews have no right to live in Judea (of all places) and thus are fair targets. Jews in Judea and Samaria strengthen Israel too much from an American perspective; whatever can be done to weaken Israel’s presence there, to this way of thinking, strengthens the United States

Now we are privy to the flip side of that equation. Ironically, the US wants Hamas, Iran’s proxy, to survive, while simultaneously the US supports Israeli actions against Iran. Without a strong Israel to counterbalance Iran, Israel would cease to be a useful American ally, would never be able to align itself with neighboring Arab countries, and would even less inclined to subjugate itself to American interests.

Those American interests depend on Israel being pliable, dependent, deferential, and accommodating. The United States that saw value in the PLO’s survival despite the PLO’s murder and kidnapping of American citizens now sees value in Hamas’ survival despite Hamas’ murder and kidnapping of American citizens. From this perspective, a victorious Israel does not serve American interests, either in promoting the two-state delusion or in getting rid of the reviled Netanyahu. For a victorious Israel will emerge from the catastrophe of October 7 stronger, wiser, finally freed of the Oslo and Gaza Expulsion illusions, and more confident in our future.

Accordingly, Biden has embarked on a campaign to delay, dissuade, and then preclude any further invasion of Gaza and any complete victory, accompanied by persistent threats of the dire consequences that will befall Israel if it does not heed these American warnings. At the same time, Biden has committed to helping Israel defend itself against Iran (result: Israel’s viability) while ruling out any American participation in “offensive” actions against Iran (result: no victory and continued proxy conflict). If true, there is at least a certain strained coherence to this policy, which nevertheless should not bind Israel at all.

We should ignore those warnings, certainly for our own welfare, political interests, and survivability in this turbulent region but for another reason as well. Golda Meir once said that “no people in the world knows collective eulogies as well as the Jews do. But we have no intention of going down in order that some should speak well of us.” To be sure, there is a public relations benefit in being victims of Iranian aggression (as there are benefits in the US, the British, the French, and others being perceived by Iran as allied with Israel, since Israel is then not seen as isolated and abandoned) but those benefits are specious and short-lived. The days should be long gone in which the Jewish people bask in the sympathy of the world as we bury Jewish victims of wanton evil. We too love “dead Jews” but we love living ones as well, Jews of faith, commitment, tenacity, and pride. We should pay less attention to those who grieve with us than to those who want to strengthen us so that we do not have to continue grieving.

Pesach celebrates our birth as a nation under G"d, the G"d who liberated us from the suffocating bondage of Egypt, gave us His Torah as our constitution, and His land of Israel as our homeland. Those who do not yet realize that will do so in the near future. When? Perhaps shortly after all of Israel recognizes these truths and lives accordingly. Happy Pesach to all!

(My “Road to Redemption” – all about Pesach – is available at fine stores and from Kodesh Press. Enjoy!)

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, a synagogue located in Teaneck, New Jersey, and one of the most vibrant centers of Orthodox Jewish life today. He served there since August 1994 until he made Aliya in 2020 to Modiin, Israel. Previously, Rabbi Pruzansky was for nine years the spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim in Kew Gardens Hills, New York.

Source: Rabbi Pruzansky’s Blog

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