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‘I am a Zionist’: Biden’s Lifelong Bond With Israel Shapes War Policy



President Joe Biden, left, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP File)
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During his visit to Israel’s war cabinet last week, President Joe Biden made it clear, once again, where he stands in that country’s war with Hamas.

“I don’t believe you have to be a Jew to be a Zionist, and I am a Zionist,” Biden said.

What Is a Zionist?

A Zionist is a person who believes in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel.

The politicians and generals gathered in the ballroom of the Tel Aviv hotel nodded in approval, according to a U.S. official knowledgeable of the closed-door remarks, Reuters reported.

Biden’s support for Israel has remained solid over the years even as some corners of his Democratic Party have urged a more critical approach toward the country and its decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory, which is widely viewed as illegal by the international community.

“He’s a politician of a generation that probably doesn’t exist anymore,” Aaron David Miller, who has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations on the Middle East, told the Associated Press.

Frequent Visitor to Dachau Concentration Camp

Biden had been to Dachau, the infamous concentration camp in Germany, several times. And, for him, it’s a direct line from there to the Hamas attacks on Israel, which caused the largest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust.

In a searing speech from the White House, Biden said the bloodshed “brought to the surface painful memories and the scars left by a millennia of antisemitism and genocide of the Jewish people.”

Amy Spitalnick, a leader of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said it’s clear that Biden “feels it in his kishkes, as my grandmother would have said,” using a Yiddish word for gut.

“There was deep appreciation for the moral clarity that the president has had,” she said.

It’s a lesson that Biden traces to his father, who he describes as having a “preoccupation with the Holocaust.” Biden was born in 1942, three years before the end of World War II and six years before Israel’s founding, coming of age at a time when the world was reckoning with genocide.

At the dinner table, then-senator Biden recalled during a 1999 hearing on antisemitism in Russia, his father would often talk about “how the world stood silently by in the 1930s in the face of Hitler.” Biden added that he is “a Zionist in my heart.”

Biden Might Have Leverage to Influence Israeli Response in Gaza

Reuters interviewed a dozen current and former aides, lawmakers, and analysts, some of whom said Biden’s current wartime embrace of Netanyahu could afford the U.S. leverage to try to moderate Israel’s response in Gaza.

While Republicans have shown near-unanimity in endorsing whatever action Israel takes, Biden faces dissent from a faction of progressives pushing for Israeli restraint and a ceasefire.

“President Biden, not all America is with you on this one, and you need to wake up and understand,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, told supporters. “We are literally watching people commit genocide.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week showed stronger U.S. public sympathy for Israel than in the past, with support for Israel highest among Republicans at 54%, compared to 37% of Democrats. Younger Americans showed less support for Israel than older Americans.

Biden, facing low approval ratings, and some fellow Democrats are also expected to be wary of running afoul of the main U.S. pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, a powerful force in U.S. elections.

To Learn More

Read more at Reuters and the Associated Press.

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