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‘Obama 2.0’: Israel pleased with Biden handling of Gaza war, but alarmed by Dems

In meetings with Israeli factions across spectrum, visiting US Jewish leaders say they received same message of satisfaction with US president and concern over his party

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Middle East in the Cross Hall of the White House, in Washington, DC on May 20, 2021, soon after Israel and the two main Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, announced a ceasefire (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Middle East in the Cross Hall of the White House, in Washington, DC on May 20, 2021, soon after Israel and the two main Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, announced a ceasefire (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

NEW YORK — In recent meetings with US Jewish leaders, senior Israeli officials both within and outside the government expressed their satisfaction with the Biden administration’s handling of last month’s Israel-Gaza conflict, while conveying significant concern regarding trends in the Democratic Party, where criticism of Israel has increasingly gone mainstream.

Two executives at American Jewish organizations told The Times of Israel Tuesday that those twin assessments, along with alarm over the recent antisemitism uptick in the US, were the themes in every one of their meetings with the leaders of parties across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

The two and a half weeks since the 11-day Gaza war have seen a carousel of visiting delegations from the US, including Congress members, Jewish federation leaders and officials in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

Members of the Netanyahu government as well as their prospective successors in the coalition led by Yamina chair Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, used the meetings to inquire about the motivations of the new administration in Washington as well as broader political trends in the US against the backdrop of the Gaza mini-war, the two participating executives said.

Conference of Presidents Executives Dianne Lob, William Daroff and Malcolm Heoenlein meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second from R) in his Jerusalem office on June 1, 2021. (Courtesy)

“Across the board, Israeli leaders were pleasantly surprised by [US President Joe] Biden’s handling of the Gaza conflict,” one of the Jewish community leaders said.

The other American Jewish organization executive said “expectations of the Biden administration from some of the more Trump-aligned members of the [Israeli] government had been rather low.”

“They’ve realized that Biden is not just another Obama, but Obama 2.0,” the source added.

The second executive said that Jerusalem was particularly appreciative of the president refraining from publicly calling for an immediate ceasefire and blocking UN Security Council resolutions to that end, while speaking out publicly in favor of Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas rocket fire.

The Biden administration has touted its quiet diplomacy — in the face of calls by progressive Democrats and the international community for more public and aggressive engagement — as having been pivotal in allowing for a relatively swift end to the Gaza fighting on May 20. Washington held over 80 phone calls with various regional players and worked on bringing the Netanyahu government to the table to agree to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of NY, right, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 18, 2021. Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, listens at left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

At the same time, Jerusalem’s satisfaction with the White House was tempered by “real distress” over Biden’s party, where some of Israel’s historically staunchest advocates joined more progressive colleagues in calling for an immediate ceasefire in the early days of the war.

Israeli government officials named Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez and House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler as longtime allies whose responses to the Gaza fighting particularly concerned them.

All three called for an immediate ceasefire and Menendez issued a statement midway through the conflict expressing concern over the IDF’s targeting of a media tower in Gaza and the loss of civilian life in the Hamas-run coastal enclave. The New Jersey senator has rarely criticized Israel, and was one of the few Democrats to vote against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 that the Netanyahu government also opposed.

Recalling the reasons for frustration among Israeli officials over Democratic calls for an immediate ceasefire, the Jewish organization executives said that given the US’s lack of ties to the Hamas terror group, such demands by lawmakers could only be interpreted as a unilateral demand that Israel refrain from responding to indiscriminate rocket fire against its citizens.

(L-R) Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett, New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas, Labor head Merav Michaeli and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz at a meeting of the heads of the would-be-coalition in Tel Aviv, June 6, 2021. (Ra’anan Cohen)

The Jewish community leaders said they had reached out to the offices of Menendez, Nadler and Schumer, which defended their positions, saying there was nothing inherently anti-Israel about calling for a ceasefire and that it prevents loss of life on both sides.

“A lot of [their responses are] rooted in Bibi and a lack of faith in his judgment and leadership,” said one executive, expressing hope that the new government slated to be sworn in on Sunday would “allow for a reset.”

For their part, Israeli party leaders Netanyahu, Bennett, Lapid and Labor chair Merav Michaeli pressed the visiting US Jewish leaders on the degree that Biden “has his finger in the dike,” holding back greater criticism of Israel in the Democratic Party, one of the executives said, adding that they discussed utilizing Michaeli — who is slated to serve as transportation minister in the next government — to present a more progressive case for Israel to liberal lawmakers abroad.

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