Trump vs. Biden on Israel
By Steve Sheffey
Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Jewish Virtual Library detailed Biden’s “decades-long record of support for Israel from his career as a senator and vice president,” and Dan Shapiro writes that Biden’s support for “the Jewish state emanates from both a moral imperative and ironclad strategic logic.” If you want to know exactly where Joe Biden stands on Israel and other issues that most Jewish voters are concerned about, read where Biden stands on Israel and other issues of concern.
The GOP quadrennially tries to increase its share of the Jewish vote. Like Laurel and Hardy’s efforts to push the music box up the hill, the GOP’s farcical efforts always end in failure. With Biden at the top of the ticket, Republicans will stand no chance. Biden’s views on Israel represent the views of the vast majority of pro-Israel Jewish Americans.
To his credit, Biden embraces President Obama’s record on Israel, which is both smart politics and good policy. The GOP will attempt to hold Biden responsible for all things Obama, real and imagined. That’s a conversation Biden will welcome, especially within the pro-Israel community.
Trump’s dismal record on on Israel and symbolic moves on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that made little difference for Israel’s safety or security can’t match the Obama-Biden administration’s history of providing record amounts of aid to Israel (including the $38 billion MOU negotiated toward the end of their second term, which remains the largest aid package ever provided to Israel), securing funding for Iron Dome above and beyond what Congress originally appropriated (contrast Obama’s support for Iron Dome with the frosty reception accorded Iron Dome from the Bush administration), becoming the first U.S. administration to provide bunker-busting bombs to Israel, taking military and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel to unprecedented levels, and responding immediately and affirmatively when Bibi personally asked Obama for help with the Israelis trapped in the Egyptian embassy and with the Carmel forest fires.
Obama enforced harsh sanctions against Iran, and he negotiated the Iran Deal, which took the single biggest threat to Israel’s existence off the table. Jewish members of Congress supported the Iran deal by more than a 2–1 margin.
It was obvious when we entered into the JCPOA that there was no better, realistic alternative to the Iran Deal. Trump withdrew from the Iran Deal and his maximum pressure strategy has failed.
The best proof that the Iran Deal was a good deal is that Prime Minister Netanyahu and others no longer warn us that immediate action is needed to stop Iran from breaking out in weeks or months, even though Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than it was when Trump took office. The Iran Deal took the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran off the table for the foreseeable future, but Trump walked away to fulfill an irresponsible campaign promise.
Before Iran received sanctions relief under the deal, Iran removed two-thirds of its centrifuges, including the disconnection of every single nuclear enrichment centrifuge at the Fordow facility. Iran reduced its vast stockpile of up to five percent enriched uranium from over 12,000 kilograms, enough for numerous nuclear bombs, down to under 300 kilograms, far less than the amount needed for even one nuclear bomb — a reduction of 98 percent. Iran also removed the core of the Arak reactor and filled it with cement. Iran was forced to redesign that facility to ensure it cannot be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. All of Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons were blocked, and to ensure that remained the case, we had 24/7 access to all known sites, including the right to inspect any site within 24 days under the most intrusive inspections regime any country has ever agreed to. Many important restrictions imposed on Iran by the Iran Deal lasted beyond 15 years and some, including a ban on nuclear weapons, were permanent.
In return, we gave Iran access to its own money. It was not a payment from the U.S., and the amount of sanctions relief came to about $50 billion (the $1.7 billion additional payment we sometimes hear about was to settle unrelated litigation with Iran, and that payment saved U.S. taxpayers money).
Only someone as unskilled at deal making as Donald Trump would think that giving Iran access to its own money in return for Iran blocking all of its paths to a nuclear weapon was a bad deal. It is only thanks to the Iran Deal that Iran is not now closer to a nuclear weapon despite Trump’s blunders.
The purpose of the Iran Deal was not to stop all of Iran’s nefarious activities, but to remove the potentially existential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, thus making Iran’s other activities easier to counter. Iran continues to fund bad actors in the region, but to the extent Trump’s new sanctions decreased Iran’s funding of its proxies, those groups obtained alternative funding.
But what about that abstention? Fixating on a lone U.N. vote to call Obama’s commitment to Israel into question is absurd. President Obama’s abstention on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, as J.J. Goldberg reminds us, “broke no new ground and said nothing that the council hadn’t said many times before. If there was anything surprising about it, it was the fact that by abstaining, the Obama administration broke its own record as the only administration since 1967 that hadn’t permitted a single anti-Israel resolution from the Security Council.”
Doug Bloomfield wrote that 2334 was “not a condemnation of Israel but of its settlement policies, and it is not one-sided; it also harshly criticizes Palestinian incitement and terrorism. The American refusal to veto the measure was intended to tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his government’s accelerated settlement construction and inflammatory rhetoric were dangerously threatening chances for a two-state solution.”
Jane Eisner wrote that “For all the hue and cry over Resolution 2334, the dire warnings from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the condemnation of Obama’s decision, there has been precious little consequence to the U.N. action. The United States hardly abandoned Israel — not with the largest military package in the history of the world signed before Obama left office.”
Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro is on record as describing claims by unnamed sources that the U.S. controlled the timing of this resolution as “a garbage claim, made by someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.”
Samantha Powers’s speech at the U.N. explaining the abstention is worth the time of anyone genuinely interested in understanding the Obama administration’s position on the resolution and the reasons for its abstention.
Briefly — because some have forgotten: When Hamas attacked Israel, Biden made key calls to get an emergency appropriations bill thru Congress to replenish Iron Dome defensive missiles.
Former U.S Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro is on record describing claims that Trump and the GOP are wrong on settlements, white nationalism, and anti-Semitism.
Jewish Americans will vote their values and vote Democratic in November. This November, Jewish voters won’t have to choose between support for Israel and their domestic priorities, because they’ll get both with Joe Biden.
Updated July 21, 2020
Steve Sheffey is Senior Strategy and Policy Adviser to the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) and the publisher of the weekly Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update. Sign up for his newsletter here. The views expressed here are his own.