Ben Clerkin

Why Trump turning on Netanyahu is actually bad for Biden

With this two-pronged strategy, Trump is outflanking the president on Israel


CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JUNE 27: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump stands on stage after being introduced during the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women's Lilac Luncheon on June 27, 2023 in Concord, New Hampshire. Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is also holding a campaign event in New Hampshire today. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

April 10, 2024 12:41

Donald Trump is turning his long-standing hatred of Bibi Netanyahu into a political advantage.

Joe Biden, who calls the Israeli PM his “close, personal friend”, is struggling to disentangle himself from Netanyahu in the eyes of the public, and especially the eyes of his own party.

But Trump, who fell out with Netanyahu in 2020 when he was judged to be too quick off the mark to congratulate Biden on winning the election, is now mixing business with pleasure to attack him over his handling of the Gaza war.

When asked in an interview last week what advice he would give to Netanyahu, Trump was scathing, almost gleeful. “Get it done. Get it over with, and get it over with fast, because we have to, you have to get back to normalcy and peace,” he said. “I’m not sure that I’m loving the way they’re doing it, because you’ve got to have victory. You have to have a victory, and it’s taking a long time. They are losing the PR war.”

Despite the stern words for the way the country is being led, Trump can clearly be heard agreeing that he is “100 per cent with Israel’’.

His strident tone on Netanyahu and strong support of Israel is closely aligned to the public mood in America. Pew Research found that 58 per cent say Israel’s reasons for fighting Hamas are valid — but just 38 per cent say Israel’s conduct of the war has been acceptable, while 34 per cent say it has been unacceptable.

With this two-pronged strategy, Trump is outflanking Biden.

Counter-intuitively, he has rather more latitude than Biden to attack Netanyahu. As figurehead of the Republican Party that brooks not a single word of criticism of Israel, Trump’s barbs come against the implicit backdrop of an unbreakable bond. Trump is also the US President who secured the Abraham Accords and who moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Despite working well with Netanyahu in government, after the relationship soured when he lost the election, Trump repeatedly criticised the Israeli PM, in particular saying he had pulled out of the mission to kill Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in 2020 and “let us down”. Biden, by contrast, has less room for manoeuvre both as president and as head of the Democratic Party that in some quarters questions the very concept of Israel.

Unlike Trump, he has tended to say, in public at least, that he likes Netanyahu — despite reportedly calling him an “asshole” in private.

In a phone call last week, Biden apparently threatened serious consequences if he didn’t change the way the war is being waged.

But soon after the call, Nancy Pelosi joined with 37 other Democrats — including radicals Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — to sign a letter calling for Biden to stop selling arms to Israel. That Pelosi, a close confidant of Biden, joined with a largely left-wing element of the party to sign the letter shows how mainstream the position is becoming within the party.

Talking about the war, First Lady Jill Biden reportedly told Joe to “stop it now”. And at every event that Biden now attends, he is heckled for supporting “genocide” in Gaza.

To the casual observer it appears that Trump supports Israel and hates Netanyahu, while Biden appears to quite like Netanyahu but to have a problem with Israel — or at least is leader of a party that does.

Of course, Trump’s balancing act of support for Israel and verbal kneecapping of Netanyahu is quite likely base instinct rather than strategic thinking. In the same interview, he managed to work himself into a lather over Biden’s golf game: “This guy [Biden] lies. What he lies most about is his golf handicap” and “If you take a person that never played before, they’d beat him.”

Trump can’t help himself. Like a slightly rabid dog with a bone, he’ll never stop gnawing at Netanyahu. But his politics of revenge have for once overlapped with the politics of public opinion. Whether he would have more success than Biden in reining in Netanyahu remains to be seen.

There was an outcry when the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed in February that branded Dearborn in Michigan “America’s Jihad Capital”, suggesting that some residents support Hamas.

The mayor of Dearbon called it “extremely inflammatory”. Democrat Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the newspaper “should immediately apologise to the residents of Dearborn and to Muslims everywhere.”

However, it looks as if the WSJ was on the money after protesters were filmed chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” to mark Al Quds Day.

The chants sprang up after activist Tarek Bazzi attacked the US for supporting Israel.

“It’s not Genocide Joe that has to go,” he said, referring to Biden. “It’s the entire system that has to go.”

Bazzi said that “any system that would allow such atrocities and such devilry to happen and would support it — such a system does not deserve to exist on God’s Earth.”

April 10, 2024 12:41

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