It was a cold November evening in 2017, when New Yorkers walking down the 2nd avenue in Manhattan began to stop and look towards the crowd forming at one side of the street. Around 100 people gathered with Palestinian flags, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans commemorating the date; It was the 2 of November, the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration. The protest took place in front of the Israeli consulate General, and the number of participants soon grew. Most of them young, in their twenties or thirties. All with Palestinian flags or Palestinian Koufiyehs, enthusiastically repeating at the top of their voices: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. Then, as numbers grew, one young protester took the microphone and went on making a speech, at some point of which she said “How many Jews here stand for Palestine?” raising her own hand. Across the small crowd, hands followed by dozens, cheered by the rest of the crowd.
The public opinion in the US is shifting on Palestine, and it is now undeniable. According to a Washington Post poll published last June, 67% of Americans support questioning the US relationship with Israel. Among Democrats, that number reaches 81%. This includes many Americans in the Jewish community, who have traditionally voted for Democrats. Progressive Jewish movements are more and more outspoken in their support of Palestinian rights and their criticism of Israel. These movements are growing especially among the young generation, for whom the traditional discourse on Israel, which completely ignored the Palestinian narrative, just isn’t convincing anymore. A slow, but significant change that the political establishment in the US is still far behind, on both sides of the board.
“Biden is out of touch”
Joe Biden is no exception. In his attempt to be as conventional a president as he could, as opposed to the controversial style of Trump’s presidency, he has been attempting to approach the Jewish community, the conventional, traditional way; talking about Israel.
In his campaign paper to the Jewish community, Biden dedicates the largest part of his promises to American Jews to his future policy on Israel. Promissing to maintaining the military aid flowing and unconditioned, he also pledges to reverse Trump’s distancing with the Palestinian Authority, all while fighting the BDS movement, tackle Iran, and push Arab states towards more normalization with Israel. In short, Biden’s so-called ‘white paper ‘ to the US Jewish community seemed more as a set of diplomatic commitments towards Israel than promises to American Jews. An approach that is contested by a different kind of expression brewing at the base of the Jewish community.
Throughout the months of his campaign, progressive American Jews have been seizing every opportunity to voice their message out to Biden. In January, Jewish Voice for Peace launched its campaign “Palestinian Freedom 2020”, which included appearances at Biden campaign events and meetings to question him on Palestinee. One of those actions took place at Biden’s campaign office in Des Moines, Iowa, where former Secretary of State John Kerry was making a public speech in support of Biden. The protesters condemned Biden’s support fo the occupation of Iraq in 2003 and his current pledge to continue arming Israel. In May, JVP published a criticism of Biden’s paper to the Jewish communiity, calling the paper “an insult to progressive values” and “explicitly racist”, noting that it never mentions the occupation or the annexation and accusing Biden of “pledging to continue to shield Israel from accountability”. Then, over the summer, the Jewish progressive group IfNotNow pressed several candidates over their stands on Palestine, including Bien. In June, the women anti-militarism organisation, Code Pink, launched a call to sign a letter to Joe Biden, urging him to take stands on behalf of Palestinian rights. The letter was signed by over 100 organizations, including many Jewish and faith-based organizations.
To the right of Obama
Ariel gold, spokes person for Code Pink, who is Jewish herself, said in an interview with the Real News Network back in June that “Biden is positioning himself to the right of the Obama administration [which he was part of as vice-president] by saying that he will keep disagreements with Israel in private”. Biden’s aide, Antony Blinken, had said in a call organized by the pro-Israel lobby group Democratic Majority for Israel, that Biden believes keepingdifferences with Israel “between friends and behind closed doors”.
Ariel Gold pointed out that the statement was in reference to the annexation plans of the occupation state’s government, making that Biden criticized annexation as late as some of the most pro-Israelí politicians, like Chuck Schummer. To Gold, Biden “wants to show that h can be as hawkish as Trump, and he uses Palestine for that”. Gold pointed out that biden “is so out of touch here! The change in the public opinion is so pronounced among youg Jews … this is the future and Biden needs to get on”.
“We do not support being conflated”
However, fixation on Israel’s support is the only reason why Biden might be “out of touch” with so many American Jews. Another point that seems to be losing effectiveness is the conflation between anti-semitism and the criticism of Israel, which logically leads to the conclusion that to defend the Jews in America, a president should fight Israel’s critics.
In their response to Biden’s paper to the Jewish voters, JVP criticized Biden for “repeating anti-Palestinian rethoric, alleging that BDS too often veers towards antisemitism”. The Jewis group considered that “it is absurd that Biden that Biden released this plan of wavering support of Israel as part of his approach to working with American Jews”.
But if this conflation is increasingly rejected by many American Jews, it is because it conflates their community with Israeli interests. The continuation of an old doctrine, that all that American Jews care about is Israel. A doctrine that faces today a growing challenge within the American Jewish public. As Ariel Gold puts it; “Biden wants to tell American Jews that he is behind them because he supports Israel, but American Jews are not Israel. We do not support being conflated”, she stressed, while affirming that “Support for American Jews means fighting against antisemitism, which means simultaneously fighting for black lives, fighting Islamophobia and anti-immigration sentiment”.