Israel’s war on Hamas may be wily old Joe’s secret weapon

President Biden’s gut feeling is that the US public backs his support for Israel


US President Joe Biden holds a press conference following a solidarity visit to Israel, on October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Thousands of people, both Israeli and Palestinians have died since October 7, 2023, after Palestinian Hamas militants based in the Gaza Strip, entered southern Israel in a surprise attack leading Israel to declare war on Hamas in Gaza on October 8. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

December 20, 2023 11:52

Joe Biden’s advanced age is widely held to be his Achilles heel, but his handling of the Israel war on Hamas might be proving it is actually something of a secret weapon.

Not that you’d know it from the headlines in Tuesday’s New York Times: “Poll finds wide disapproval of President Biden on Gaza”, and “How much is Biden’s support of Israel hurting him with young voters?”.

The survey found that registered voters favour Trump over Biden 46 per cent to 44 per cent and voters aged 18-29 favour Trump 49 per cent to Biden 43 per cent.

But buried underneath a blizzard of bad news is more than a small glimmer of hope: among likely 2024 voters, Biden leads Trump 47 per cent to 45 per cent. He leads by six points among voters who participated in the 2020 election.

Joe Biden did not end up in the Oval Office by accident. His political instincts, more than his mental acuity, guided him there. At 81, he may stumble over his words and even his own feet, but he doesn’t trip when it comes to knowing America's core values. His views are not buffeted by fads or fashion: they have been honed since he entered the Senate in 1972, stress-tested over decades.

His gut tells him that voting America backs him on Israel and the most recent survey appears to confirm that hunch.

In a speech to donors last week, he demonstrated some of his political breadth as he revealed that Benjamin Netanyahu has a photograph of the two of them on his desk from when he was a Senator and they were both “young men”.

To laughter, Biden told the audience “I said, ‘Bibi, I love you, but I don’t agree with a damn thing you have to say.’ That remains to be the case.”

He then labelled Netanyahu’s administration “the most conservative government in Israel’s history”, and demanded a “change”. He called for a two-state solution with a role for the Palestinian Authority.

It would be easy to focus on how Biden, now softly-spoken with age, fumbled his words during that speech and to dismiss what he said. To do so would be to misjudge the mood in America he represents. He has tools at his disposal -- UN Security council veto and billions in aid money -- to bring his “old friend” into line.

That pragmatism extends to his approach to the aid package for Israel ($14bn) and Ukraine ($61bn) that Republicans have blocked without extra border security measures being added to it.

Biden senses how the prevailing winds have shifted. Democrat cities such as Washington DC and New York are more open to immigration controls because they have huge bills run up by migrants bussed from the border.

He is now hammering out a deal that echoes policies pursued by the Trump administration. Progressives are predictably furious. He has tuned them out.

Doing the right thing for Israel and Ukraine is giving him the cover to make a deal with Republicans for what might be a popular immigration crackdown.

However, navigating the country’s mood has put him out of step with many of the younger generation in his own party. His staunch support for Israel has infuriated them. Thanks to the conflict he may not have to deal with them for much longer.

Aipac (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is mounting its biggest campaign yet to remove Democrats who have gone too far in their criticism of Israel.

It has a full slate of targets, top of whom is Ilhan Omar. The congresswoman has called Israel’s response to Hamas a “war crime”. In the 2022 primary she came within 2,500 votes of being unseated.

Democratic primaries are not until August. However, candidates are currently competing for a tidal wave of Aipac cash that the organisation says will dwarf previous cycles. It may wash away many who do not share Biden’s gut sense for the country.

It’s without doubt that you would not want to get into a car Biden was driving. But while his mind might be letting go, his heart and internal political compass remain strong. They, more than the political echo chamber of the press and his own party, are helping him successfully navigate America's new dividing line on Israel.

There were hopes that her failure to condemn Jewish genocide might by now have cost Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard, her job.

Since her Congressional hearing tens of millions in donations have been cancelled and applications have fallen by 17 per cent.

However, she is still in post and has been backed by the board. Elizabeth Magill, the University of Pennsylvania president who resigned within days, must be wondering if she fell on her sword a little too soon, while college presidents across the US will recognise with relief that it is business as usual.

December 20, 2023 11:52

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