When Biden Says No, He Means It

Joe Biden said an unequivocal “no.” Bibi Netanyahu is not invited to the White House until further notice. In other words, until his constitutional coup d’état disappears. Netanyahu’s answer, “don’t interfere in Israel’s internal affairs,” was not long in coming. In response, media commentators tried to interpret this American “no”. Haaretz’s lead editorial defended Biden, explaining that his motives are pure and he speaks “as a supporter and lover of Israel.” Some explain the “no” due to the president’s Irish temperament or his advanced age, and some even attributed it to an unfortunate slip of the tongue. On the other hand, Bibi’s son Yair had accused the CIA of being behind the protests, a statement that must have angered the president. Everyone anticipated a quick fix from the White House that would lower the flames. A statement was indeed made, but the flames did not subside.

Right wing commentators mentioned the long-standing friendship between the two old friends. It was claimed that Biden is a Zionist, that even in the days of Clinton and Obama there were crises, but that strategic relations are stronger than any dispute because Israel is a strategic asset that the US cannot give up. In short, the US needs us more than we need it. So, we can raze the Palestinian village of Hawara, establish a private militia for Minister of National Security Ben Gvir, annul the disengagement law and fire the defense minister without breaking the bank, because Bibi knows the Americans better than they know themselves. As you may recall, on March 3, 2015, Netanyahu addressed Congress in a defiant speech aimed at thwarting Obama’s attempt to reach an agreement with Iran. It was Netanyahu back then who crudely interfered in internal American politics and contributed his part to Trump’s electoral victory. Since then, Bibi and Trump became identical twins, with Trump starring in Likud’s election posters and Bibi starring in countless White House ceremonies.

Precisely here lies the explanation for Biden’s resounding “no”. The American president may love Israel, but he loves America more. Biden is leading a historic crusade to save the soul of America from the clutches of American fascism as represented by Trump. Something momentous occurred on January 6, 2021, the day Trump’s supporters broke into the Capitol, and Biden’s struggle is primarily aimed at saving American democracy which, it turned out, is not a given. The Israeli right-wing did not take the event seriously and continues to admire Trump, seeing him as Israel’s best friend ever.

Not only Israel underestimated Biden. Also, Russia did when it invaded Ukraine without any hesitation. And where did Israel stand? On the side of democracy or on the side of autocracy? A Putin victory in Ukraine, as well as a victory of Bibi’s constitutional coup, will affect American politics itself as Trumpism continues to threaten America’s democratic regime. This is why US policy has changed. In Israel, they refuse to understand that today’s America is not the America of Clinton, Bush and even Obama. While Biden is moving at a dizzying pace for radical social change based on the Build Back Better program, Israel is moving in the opposite direction, towards neo-liberal conservatism and extreme theocracy. Biden’s “no” accurately reflects the chasm that has opened between the two countries.

The American political language underwent a radical change: the language of the conservatives, who censor movies and books, prohibit abortions, hate the LGBTQ community and are hostile to blacks, compared to the liberal language, which calls for ethnic inclusion and a social safety net for all. It is not difficult to guess which language is spoken by the Israeli government of Smotrich, Ben Gvir, Levin, and Bibi himself.

In a brilliant article published by the New York Times on March 27, Aron Heller compared the American right to the Israeli right. The equivalent of Republican red is Netanyahu’s coalition, which defines itself along identity lines and includes the ultra-orthodox, religious Zionism and low-income Mizrachis . In contrast, the democratic blue is represented in Israel by the upper middle class, educated Ashkenazim living in the big cities and in the center of the country. Heller shows how the American right-wing platform took over Israeli society through extremist emissaries with American citizenship, starting with Rabbi Meir Kahane in the 1980s and ending with founder of the Kohelet Forum and its chairman Moshe Kopel in the last decade. These representatives live in the settlements and take advantage of the growing rift in Israeli society to impose their libertarian views straight from the Federalist Society, which through Trump forced the most conservative Supreme Court to overturn the right to abortion. It’s no secret that Kohelet has been managing the entire ideological array of the Knesset right for years through position papers and laws it writes for Knesset members. Now they want to jump to the next level and take over the Supreme Court as well.

Like Trump and the conservatives in America, Netanyahu adopted piggish capitalist policies, creating one of the biggest social gaps in the Western world. “The Second Israel” was built within the 40 years of Likud rule. The false claim of Likud spokespersons is that even when in power Likud does not actually rule because the centers of control are in fact in the hands of the elites. This matches the perception of Trump who sees the army, police, prosecutor’s office and the media as part of the “deep state” and fights against all signs of the democratic regime. As in the US, the lower class in Israel also flocks to the charismatic leader, despite his belonging to the same “elites.”

Biden is confronting fascism through a social program designed to correct history and win back the workers who supported Trump through a social budget that is one of the largest in history, reminiscent of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Hundreds of billions of dollars are invested in infrastructure, factories and social programs to build “from the bottom up,” instead of the “trickle down” theory folly that allows the rich to get richer while the poor wait for some of this wealth to trickle down to them. We paradoxically witness how “Bibi-ism”, which is rooted in poverty and social gaps, continues to foster elitist capitalism while insulting the outstanding “hi-tech nation” against whose perpetrators it conducts a campaign of violent incitement from every possible megaphone.

Yet Israeli fascism is not fed by social gaps alone. It is deeply rooted in racism and hatred of Arabs, who serve as ideological fuel that drives the deep right. The Kohelet Policy Forum, which represents pure capitalism, also represents a messianic ideology that views annexation of the occupied territories as realization of their desires. They long to see Israel in the form of a Jewish kingdom whose constitution is Jewish religious law, and which represents the supremacy of the Jews over other nations. Unlike the US, in Israel the right-wing ideology has infiltrated the public discourse. Liberals stopped talking about the occupation, put up with ignoring the voice of the Arabs in the Knesset (see our former article “only the Jewish vote counts”), normalized apartheid, gave up on solving the Palestinian problem, and contented themselves with managing the conflict and “economic peace” until they reached the current abyss and said “enough is enough”.

Like American liberalism, Israeli liberalism is also facing a historical test today. Biden’s “no” is decisive, and includes all types of racism, misogyny, and violation of human rights. One might say that Biden issued a red card not only to Bibi Netanyahu and his Messianic ultra-orthodox coalition, but also lit a warning light to the protest movement.

The future of Israeli democracy will not be guaranteed until it ceases to be a privilege granted only to Jews. It must also include the Palestinians, meaning all people living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, regardless of religion, nationality, race or gender. It is true that democracy needs to be anchored in a constitution, but it must be comprehensive and not incomplete. Democracy cannot ignore five million Palestinians living in its backyard. It will have to be inclusive, uniting the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, within the framework of one egalitarian and democratic state.

About Yacov Ben Efrat