“He’s not going to be that bad for Israel. Besides at least he will not be so divisive and he will try and work across the aisle and not make Israel a partisan issue.” Such is the refrain from many Jews who support Mr. Biden and also support Israel. Unfortunately, such sentiments do not reflect political reality.
The Biden policy towards Israel will not be developed by Mr. Biden. It will be developed and approved by those in key positions: the Administration’s foreign policy council, undersecretaries, ambassadors and their aides. Unless the Biden team is different than any other previous team seeking the highest office, Biden’s team is already putting together and vetting a list of candidates for key positions in a Biden Administration. Those successful in garnering those positions will have the strong backing of key supporters to the Biden campaign. JStreet, for example, who has been outspoken in support of Mr. Biden, is no doubt already campaigning for individuals whom they think would further their aims. Their members are likely providing substantial contributions to Mr. Biden’s campaign. A Biden administration would likely include individuals who closely align with that organization’s sentiments or could even include current staff. (The same process would be true for any first term administration irrespective of party affiliation.). While many of Mr. Biden’s statements on Israel may not raise cautionary flags for traditional pro-Israel voters, those whom he will hire likely would.
Secondly, President Trump is not able to concretize moves through legislation against Iran or advance a peace plan by reaching across the aisle any easier than anyone else would. Senators and Congressmen and the Administration rarely reach across the aisle unless they can find backing of an interest group which supports the legislator with whom they are meeting. Once when trying to find support for a natural resource bill, we needed to find support of a key Democratic Senator. The response we received was as expected; find an (environmental) organization to sign on. “You know the drill, unless we have cover we can’t support it.” The idea that the Administration would be able to find support for legislation without finding cover for the Member is exceedingly rare especially. Today when the media is looking for division and outrage, it is next to impossible to step towards the center or the Member will be feeding a challenger from his or her own party in the next primary. In the case of Israel legislation, the same principles apply. Again, these principles are true regardless of party affiliation.
It is understandable that Jews who support Israel and yet are so turned off by the President’s style would want to consider supporting Mr. Biden. They should not be naïve though when making a decision for whom to vote. A Biden Administration would necessarily include key officials and policy makers who hold views which lean more towards an organization such as JStreet. Additionally, it is unlikely that a different President with an agenda such as the President pushed forward would have been any more successful reaching across the aisle. Jewish voters need to understand the political process and not be naïve.
Gary Schiff is a former Congressional natural resource staff and policy director.