by Halie Soifer
The same week that Hamas terrorists launched the deadliest attack targeting Jews since the Holocaust, Jews around the world read the first portion of the Torah describing creation. The story starts with recognition of the most fundamental distinction from which all else emanates — the contrast between night and day, between darkness and light.
The world witnessed a shockingly similar contrast of humanity on October 7 and in the weeks since. The darkness of Hamas’s barbarism cannot be overstated — they decapitated, raped, dismembered, abducted, and burned Israelis alive. They slaughtered infants, forced children to witness the murder of their parents, and executed children in front of their families. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Hamas’s war crimes were “worse than ISIS.”
Those who have justified or created any equivalence between Hamas’s campaign of terror targeting civilians and Israeli operations targeting terrorists are morally bankrupt. The kind of darkness demonstrated by Hamas requires unequivocal condemnation. There is no justification for this unmitigated violence, including any aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the days and weeks that followed, there were clear distinctions of moral clarity and leadership in the United States. President Biden didn’t hold back denouncing the “pure, unadulterated evil” of Hamas and offering support to Israel and American Jews. By contrast, former President Trump mocked Israel, criticized its leadership and intelligence, and praised Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorists on Israel’s northern border. The fundamental difference between the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties amid this crisis could not have been more stark — it was night and day, darkness and light.
In a meeting with Jewish leaders that I attended at the White House on October 11, President Biden warmly declared that his “commitment to Israel’s security and the safety of the Jewish people is unshakeable. The United States has Israel’s back. And I have yours as well, both at home and abroad.”
When President Biden delivered these words, he was visibly shaken by the depravity of Hamas, and his reassurance to American Jews was palpable — it was not just heard in the room, it was felt. His words were backed by actions, including U.S. military and diplomatic assistance, a pledge of increased security funding for Israel, and an unprecedented White House strategy to combat antisemitism introduced earlier this year.
The next week, President Biden became the first U.S. president to visit Israel in wartime, where he was anointed “the most important Zionist leader in the world” by a survivor of Hamas terror, Haaretz journalist Amir Tibon. Shalom Lipner, an adviser to seven consecutive Israeli prime ministers, called Biden “the first Jewish president” given his long standing and heartfelt support of Israel, which has made him more popular than Israel’s own leaders. Even Republicans, including Trump’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and my counterpart, the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), Matt Brooks, offered rare praise for President Biden.
Amid the warm glow of Biden’s empathy and support, Trump exuded a cold callousness toward Israel in its darkest hour. He turned Israel’s horror into his own petty political riff, lashing out at Netanyahu because the Israeli Prime Minister had praised Biden’s response. Trump also went so far as to blame the attacks on President Biden. In an egregious and intentional lie that appeared on the teleprompter at his October 11 campaign event in West Palm Beach he said that “Under Biden, the same people that attacked Israel…are right now pouring into our once-beautiful U.S.A.” He repeated similar disinformation this weekend at the RJC convention in Las Vegas, where he also falsely asserted that “Joe Biden’s weakness caused the attack on Israel.”
While President Biden repeatedly assured Israel and American Jews that he had their back, Trump turned his back. Biden has been principled, clear, and resolute, supporting Israel while also calling for a “humanitarian pause” to allow aid to enter Gaza to support innocent Palestinians. At the same time, Trump talks about banning Palestinian refugees from the United States and continues to blame Biden for the attacks. This is dangerous not just because it’s untrue, but also because it cynically politicizes Israel’s security crisis and deflects blame from the true culprit — Hamas.
Some may choose to look the other way amid Trump’s unconscionable missteps, but he’s leading the Republican presidential field by double digits one year before the election and months before the GOP selects its nominee. If this moment was the ultimate test of leadership, Donald Trump failed abysmally. We ignore Trump’s darkness at our own peril, and potentially that of our allies, including Israel. This must be recognized across partisan lines if the United States is to continue to serve as a beacon to the world and source of light.