Talking back to Biden

Shabbat shalom!

Joseph Biden, who is seeking nomination as the Democratic party’s candidate for President of the US in this year’s elections, has given an interview published in The Times of Israel, “My plan to fight anti-Semitism”. Here’s why his plan is no plan at all, and why Biden as President would be harmful to Israel and to American Jews.

Addressing first the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York metropolitan area (Jersey City, Brooklyn, and Monsey), Biden lists three causes. He blames President Trump, white supremacists, and the lack of gun control.

President Trump condemned the attacks in very strong terms, and has recently also taken unprecedented moves to protect Jews from harassment and discrimination on college campuses. Trump’s moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem. He’s been a good friend to Israel and his own family is part American Jewish. There are other things he’s said and done that merit criticism. But when it comes to the Jews, he’s a friend.

White supremacists. Yes, neo-Nazis were responsible for Pittsburgh and Poway. But none of the recent (and ongoing) attacks in the NY area were carried out by white supremacists: all the suspects arrested or neutralized are African Americans. Anti-Semitism is unfortunately a serious and widespread problem in the Black community: the “poet” LeRoi Jones (later styled Amiri Baraka) fanned hatred in his despicable verses, Jesse Jackson called the City “Hymie-town”, Louis Farrakhan praised Hitler.

Calling the problem out gets you called a racist. So let’s get that out of the way. My Dad was one of the Reverend Martin Luther King’s lawyers and as a kid I marched for civil rights. My best (and only) friend in elementary school was a Black kid. I’m no racist. Far from it. I think Black culture is America, and without it I wouldn’t want to live here. White supremacists pose an extreme threat to Jews and ultimately to all decent Americans; and in my view the embrace of the Christian fundamentalist right by some Jews is misguided. But that’s not the point here. Biden is misrepresenting a serious problem, one which affects human lives, just to make cheap jabs at a political opponent. Those who criticize anti-Semitism only when it comes from right-wing whites, but not when it comes from Blacks or Muslims, are at best opportunists.

Biden says the assaults on Jews have to do with the lack of appropriate gun control laws. That is also mendacious rubbish. New York, where the recent attacks have happened, has some of the strongest gun control laws in the country, and if anything they can be Orwellian in their application. To illustrate this: a friend of a friend was traveling a couple of years ago to a gun show in Pennsylvania with his registered weapon as duly checked and registered baggage. When his plane was diverted to NYC because of bad weather he was arrested by the NYPD as he stepped off the plane— he spent the night in jail because the plane’s manifest noted he had a gun. The “Black Israelites” who murdered people in Jersey City had illegal weapons; but, and this is the most important point, the Black attacker in Monsey had no gun at all. He attacked people with a machete. One of his victims is in a coma and is likely to die. If Jews had been legally armed, with proper training in gun safety and handling, in any of those situations, they could have acted in self-defense and saved innocent lives. Get your damn facts right, Mr. Biden.

On Israel, Biden is equally (by now, shall we say, expectably) evasive and disingenuous. He parrots the old cliché of genteel “liberal” State Department/Ivy League anti-Semitism, condemning what he calls settlement activity and annexation. Does that mean Jerusalem, where David and Solomon reigned and where a Jew named Jesus Christ walked, should not be united as the capital of Israel, or that Jews should not be allowed, because we are Jews, to live in Hebron near the Cave of Machpelah, where the Patriarchs are buried, or the place of the Tabernacle at Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant rested for four hundred years? Or Tekoa, where the Prophet Amos preached? Or Herodion, where the Zealots and Bar Kokhba resisted the murderous pagan barbarism of the Roman empire? Jews were building houses of study, copying Bible manuscripts, and pondering philosophy in those places when Joe Biden’s ancestors were living in the trees. We don’t require his advice on where in the Land of Israel we can and can’t live. When for nineteen long years the Jordan (or as one of my students called it after a dreary summer, the Hashimite Kingdom of Boring) vandalized Jewish sacred places and didn’t allow a Jew to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, the US State Department didn’t utter a peep. Now Israel is singled out for microscopic criticism. Isn’t there a term for that? Oh yes: anti-Semitism!

Another of Biden’s disreputable, biased old saws is the myth of moral equivalence. He remarks condescendingly, as though disciplining two children, that Israel and the Palestinians will not take risks for peace. Tut, tut. Really? Israel gave the Sinai to Egypt in a peace agreement and got in return a sheet of paper. We can just hope their Pharaohs keep on remembering Joseph (it’s a Biblical reference— not you, Joe). Israel signed a peace treaty with Arafat, gave up land to the PA, and got two Intifadas and an ongoing campaign by the Palestinians of hatred, incitement, and murder. Israel withdrew from Gaza, and got Hamas, and rocket attacks, and… do I really need to spell it out? Land for peace is a BAD IDEA.

The Democratic party, like the Labo(u)r party in the UK, has a very serious problem with anti-Semites in its ranks, but Biden won’t call out Omar, Tlaib, and others by name, just as many Labor MPs have not had the courage and moral clarity to condemn Jeremy Corbyn. Is a man with that kind of cowardice fit to be President? After all, we know Biden is a bully with a mouth to match— he’s always using schoolyard and playground metaphors, challenging his opponents to fist fights and push-up competitions and the like. But when it comes to Jew-baiting in his own party, he’s as timid as a little kitten.

Biden’s proud of having worked for Obama. On that, at least, he’s candid. Okay, let’s remember Obama’s victory lap around the Middle East that included a peroration at Al-Azhar “university” in Cairo but no stop in Israel. The way Obama left Prime Minister Netanyahu sitting there while he waltzed off to dinner. Obama’s shafting Israel at the UN as a parting gesture. Obama sending the regime in Tehran a plane load of cash, literally. Yesterday Trump neutralized the mass murderer and terrorist Soleimani (a move Biden has condemned)— Obama bankrolled the gang the head of the Quds (i.e., Jerusalem) brigade worked for.

Mister Joe Biden, your “plan to fight anti-Semitism” is no plan at all. It’s as phony as a three-dollar bill, as my Dad used to say. And even if you put on tefillin every morning and checked your mezuzahs as regularly as smoke alarm batteries, I still wouldn’t want as President of the United States a guy who let his drug-taking son accept a $100K-per-month position with a shady Ukrainian firm while you were Vice-President. Quite aside from the obvious implications of influence-peddling and corruption, a good father would give a son some of that harsh language you like so much, and get him into detox and an honest job. Yes, the rules are apparently different for the moneyed elite of the political establishment. Yes, Americans have got used to the worst of us running Washington, not the best.

But neither my Torah conscience nor my American vote is for sale.

About the Author
James R. Russell is Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University (semi-retired), Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a part-time Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Biblical Hebrew at California State University, Fresno. He is on the Editorial Board of the journal Judaica Petropolitana, St. Petersburg State University, and a founding member of the International Association for Jewish Studies, chartered in the Russian Federation. His PhD is in Zoroastrian Studies, from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London; and he taught Ancient Iranian languages and religions at Columbia University from 1982-1992.
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