“This is the worst group of appointments to cabinet positions with respect to US-Israel relations ever,” Morton Klein told me earlier this week.
Klein is the leader of the Zionist Organization of America, the largest conservative group in Jewish American politics. Biden, Klein says, is stacking his administration with Obama-era staffers hostile to Israel and committed to reviving the Iran deal.
No less alarmingly, Klein told me that the leaders of other major Jewish American organisations are pressuring him not to speak out. “I’ve been called by several Jewish leaders, demanding I stop criticising Biden: ‘This is bad for the Jews. You’re getting [the administration] upset, you should not be doing this. So shut up.”’
In truth, Biden is no more a friend than an enemy of Israel. He’s a professional politician of the “no friends, only interests” kind. Most of those interests are domestic. That’s how a senator stays afloat in the Swamp.
Forty-seven years in Congress, chasing the wisdom of the hour, and always arriving just after the smart money.
The Democrats used to like Israel, so Biden used to be a friend. It came easily to his generation. Biden, Israel’s ex-ambassador to Washington Michael Oren says, even has “a deep feeling for Israel”.
Now the Democrats don’t like the Jewish state so much. The State Department never did. Both of them want to revive the Iran Deal, the centrepiece of Barack Obama’s play to redraw America’s map of the Middle East. Once again, the US wants to make friends with Israel’s mortal enemies, the mullahs in Tehran.
Robert Gates, who served as Defense Secretary under both George W Bush and Barack Obama, has said Biden was “wrong on almost every major foreign policy issue over the preceding 40 years”.
At least he’s consistent. But that should worry Israel and its supporters.
When Donald Trump trashed the Iran deal, he trashed the reputations of its creators: Obama, Biden, John Kerry and diplomats such as Antony Blinken, who is now Biden’s Secretary of State, and lead negotiator Robert Malley, who is now Biden’s Special Envoy to Tehran.
Blinken comes from a notable Jewish American family. He claims that his stepfather, a Holocaust survivor, shaped his outlook. How he squares that with cutting a deal with a regime that denies the Holocaust while threatening another is beyond me. It’s beyond Henry Kissinger too, who said that the Iran deal put the theocracy on “a glidepath” to the nuclear bomb.
Malley, the lead negotiator on Obama’s Iran deal, also has a striking Jewish background. His father, Simon Malley, was one of France’s most prominent radical (and pro-Palestinian) journalists — until the French government expelled him in 1980.
Malley fils denies that it was Yasser Arafat’s intransigence that sank the Camp David talks in 2000. In 2008, he left Obama’s campaign when it emerged that he had been meeting with Hamas. Since then, Malley has led the invariably anti-Israel International Crisis Group. He insists he’s not anti-Israel, just pro-peace. Of course.
Then there’s Maher Bitar, the freshly appointed senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council. Bitar, a Palestinian American, was on the board of the anti-Zionist group Students for Justice for Palestine. Not forgetting Matt Duss, who used to be Bernie Sanders’ foreign-policy adviser and is now tipped a job at the State Department. Duss comes from a family of Christian evangelical anti-Israel activists. He has compared Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza to “segregation in the American South”. He calls the Mossad’s assassination of Iran’s nuclear mastermind Mohsen Fakhrizadeh “terrorism”. With friends like these…
Blinken emphasises Biden’s history of friendliness to Israel. He reminds us that in 2014, when Israel was under rocket fire from Gaza, Biden hastened to secure Congressional funding for Iron Dome missile-defence batteries.
Blinken doesn’t mention the unfriendly Biden. That’s the Biden who received a tongue-lashing from Menachem Begin in 1982 after threatening to cut off US aid: “I am a proud Jew. Three thousand years of culture are behind me,” Begin said, “and you will not frighten me with threats.”
That’s also the Biden who hasn’t phoned Netanyahu. It’s a gentle threat, but it’s a sign of what’s to come.
As a diplomat, Blinken doesn’t mention the obvious. Biden is 78 years old. He’s plainly past his best and heavily reliant on his advisers. He’s on his way out before he’s on his way in.
It won’t be Biden who sets his administration’s negotiating terms with Iran. It’ll be his aides and experts. If the US and Iran make it back to the negotiating table, the US may become very unfriendly indeed to Israel. That will split the Jewish American groups too.
Morton Klein tells me that the heads of two major Jewish organisations recently phoned to beg him to stop talking.
“They said, ‘Mort, this harms our chances to be at the table. It harms our chances for the administration to call us, to ask our opinion.’”
“I said, ‘These people they’re appointing, they don’t give a damn about your opinion.’”
Dominic Green is deputy editor of the Spectator’s US edition