Iran? Saudi Arabia? Don’t Depend on Biden

Given that President Joe Biden is incapable of being decisive on the basic issue of combating antisemitism, one should not expect significant steps against Iran or movement in promoting peace with Saudi Arabia.

Here is the forecast. There is no chance the Biden administration will strike a breakthrough between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In other words, there is as much chance that Biden will bring about such historic change as there is he will order a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

How do we know this? This week, when the United States rebuked Israel for “violating commitments” over renewed settlement activities at Homesh, the Jewish community in the United States was in an uproar over another issue entirely, and, don’t yawn, it is quite relevant for Israel.

After many months of anticipation, President Joe Biden issued the first national strategy to fight antisemitism after a wave of unprecedented antisemitic attacks in the United States. None other than U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Antisemitism Aaron Keyak recently summed up the situation. He told Israel Hayom, that “for the past 4 or 5 years I have not felt safe as a Jew in America. When I take my 5-year-old daughter to synagogue, the first thing we do is to look for an emergency exit . . . the history of antisemitism has shown that Jews in every country knew that they must leave at a moment’s notice.”

To Biden’s credit, it is said that he did not try to gloss over or whitewash the situation. The president is a Zionist, loves Israel, and has Jewish grandchildren. He spoke out strongly against antisemitism and, as said, ordered a presidential plan to combat it. However, there is great disappointment. True, there is a plan and important language. However, action, typically for the Biden administration, is somewhat ambiguous. “President Biden has invested significant attention addressing record levels of antisemitism…this is to be commended,” said Kenneth Marcus, an antisemitism scholar, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

Marcus said “Biden’s strategy is impressively wide-ranging and provides a great number of plans and policies for treating antisemitism such as increasing support for education on Jewish heritage and the Holocaust. Also, stressing physical security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions is welcome and, unfortunately, quite necessary.”*

The praise was followed by lament. “The Biden administration has also forcefully embraced International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, despite regretfully muddying the water by also acknowledging a lesser standard,” Marcus added. “Deeply troubling, however, is that the administration appears to be retreating from a longstanding commitment to issue new regulations on combating antisemitism.” “The Biden administration has repeatedly promised to issue Department of Education regulations that apply the Executive Order on Combating Antisemitism … [t]he White House’s failure to mention this crucial activity is deeply disappointing.” Marcus asserted that the rhetoric is strong and the intent is good, but the substance doesn’t always measure up.

Not in Our Schools

Marcus, who worked in the human rights field under George W. Bush and Donald Trump, did not criticize the incomplete job by the Biden administration. The Jewish establishment indeed welcomed the program launched by the White House, but other organizations, such as the Forum to Stop Antisemitism** expressed disappointment.

The forum, which has always taken a very aggressive line against hatred of Jews in America and was among the first to identify the wave of hatred, a peak in which we find ourselves, wrote that it is “very concerned about several central aspects in the White House strategy against antisemitism. The crisis regarding hatred of Jews in our country should be treated in a clear manner and as a phenomenon in and of itself, and the plan administered by Biden is failing every test.”

According to the forum, “contrary to recommendations, the plan does not use the IHRA definition to define what is antisemitism. Instead, it pushes it into a short paragraph, which also includes the inferior rival definition. If we cannot give the problem a name and identify it, we cannot begin to solve it. The non-usage of the IHRA definition creates a hole in the president’s plan. While recognizing that Jews are a focus of hatred because of their connection to Israel, it does not successfully define anti-Zionism as a central form of antisemitism.”*

This is the heart of the issue. The Zionist American president did not take the position that anti-Zionism is defined as antisemitism. This was despite the fact that dozens of countries, which are much less close to Israel, did so in recent years. It is quite disappointing that our great ally is not following through. Indeed, Biden’s America refuses to say that anti-Zionism is antisemitism although this is defined as such by the IHRA.

Why was it necessary to stick with the IHRA definition of antisemitism? There are many reasons. IHRA has become a global index. If the United States does not stand by it, who will? In addition, by means of this definition, administrations at institutions of higher learning will have the tools to enforce significant steps against those who harm Jews or supporters of Israel on college campuses. When there isn’t any binding definition, every institution will follow an independent policy; i.e., haters of Israel can continue to go wild.

Pulling the Rope

What Biden is doing and not doing to combat antisemitism foretells his future steps regarding Saudi Arabia. In order to effect a breakthrough between Jerusalem and Riyadh, Biden must go all the way, to turn on its head the policy toward Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from chilly distancing to a warm embrace. For this they will need courage, power,and the ability to go against the current. The reality is that for many months, Biden has not been there.

The weakness on the issue of antisemitism or Saudi Arabia reminds one very much of his approach on Iran. All indications show that Biden does not intend to take action. In fact, he has said hundreds of times that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but under his watch, Tehran is closer to a bomb than ever before.

His armed forces chief of staff made disturbing comments before Congress that the United States “will not allow Iran to deploy nuclear weapons,” i.e., to develop them, yes, but to deploy them, no.* This statement should be a red light in Israel and make it clear that just as with the case of Saudi Arabia and antisemitism, Biden perhaps wants to act, but cannot.

In fact, those who follow the news in the United States know that Biden does not go the distance in any field. This is the case with the war in Ukraine, the effort to stop illegal immigration into the United States, or even this week, when he was dragged behind Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the budget battle. A savvy politician finds compromise among hawkish groups and maneuvers between pressure, but unconventional decisions do not characterize Biden’s presidency.

“On the two issues (war against antisemitism and the Iranian challenge) there is a struggle between two camps within the administration – center-left and extreme left,” says Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor in the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in the United States (and a former senior official in the Trump Administration).*

“Those who are pushing to adopt the IHRA definition or a stronger line against Iran, are pushed aside by those who oppose IHRA and support a much worse nuclear deal with Iran. Therefore, in both cases, this ends in a mixed policy such as this, full of contradictions and internal discrepancies,” explains Goldberg.*

The conclusion is clear, Biden, someone who is unable to follow through on his personal belief about a relatively simple issue such as antisemitism, a fight in which he is deeply committed, of course will not do anything on a fateful issue, when the establishment is opposed and the party, at least in part, is in opposition.

The illusions are worthless. There is no chance for peace with Saudi Arabia during the Biden presidency. Regarding Iran, we do not have the luxury of waiting until January 2025.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted remark could not be independently verified.

**Editor’s note: The exact name of the organization cited by the author could not be verified.

About this publication

About Charles Railey 61 Articles
I recently retired from the federal government, having worked for many years on Middle East issues and regional media. My fascination with the region has never changed and this is one reason why the work of Watching America caught my eye. I live in the DC area with my wife, two grown children, and three cats.

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