October 12, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Biden’s statesmen’s balance tested at home and abroad
The prospect of antisemitic violence in America as well as Israel.
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I said yesterday that the president was striking a statesmen’s balance, which everyone needs right now, between the interests of Israel and the interests of the Palestinians who live and work in the Gaza Strip, while also blaming Hamas, the paramilitary terrorist organization, for starting what is now a six-day-old war that has claimed more than 2,500 lives on both sides.
Joe Biden and the leaders of four other liberal democracies, all European, have indeed elevated the difference between a paramilitary terrorist group and ordinary Palestinians. Building on that in his own speech Tuesday, the president made a point of reminding Israel’s leadership that democracies such as ours must never meet “pure, unadulterated evil,” which is how he described the Hamas attack, with pure, unadulterated evil of their own. Laws of war matter, he said.
Biden said this even as Israeli military forces sealed the border around the Gaza Strip while pounding it from above with munitions. One day later, a top Israeli general said they were preparing for a ground operation. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US supports air strikes on Hamas targets. The administration is working on devising a means of escape for noncombatants, many of them children, fleeing for safety. How far Israel is willing to go remains to be seen, but at least one general has said “we will have to change the reality in Gaza.” How far the US is willing to go along with that remains to be seen, too.
The president must stand against anti-Jewish terrorists abroad. He must stand against anti-Jewish white supremacists at home. Testing that balance is Trump’s transparently fascist presidential campaign.
The president’s statesman’s balance is likely to be tested at home as well as abroad – thanks to the transparently fascist presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Biden never mentioned him in Tuesday’s speech, but he implied that “indiscriminate evil” – in this case, that of a paramilitary terrorist group whose goal is murdering Jews – has the potential for happening here in the United States, as it did in Israel.
The prospect of antisemitic violence is why Biden said police around the country “have stepped up security around centers for Jewish life. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are working closely with state and local law enforcement and Jewish community partners to identify and disrupt any domestic threat that could emerge in connection with these horrific attacks.”
“This is a moment for the United States to come together, to grieve with those who are mourning,” he said, adding that we should be “real clear” about antisemitism. “There is no place for hate in America — not against Jews, not against Muslims, not against anybody. We reject — we reject — what we reject is terrorism. We condemn the indiscriminate evil, just as we’ve always done. That’s what America stands for.”
But even as he called for unity against the “indiscriminate evil” of antisemitism, Trump was using language drawn straight from antisemitic propaganda. In what’s becoming increasingly common, the Republican frontrunner inveighed this week against immigrants who have crossed the border without authorization, accusing them, as he did in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, of “poisoning the blood of our country.”
The head of America’s oldest Hispanic civil rights group told the Post that this language, which he says is growing more pronounced as we get closer to the 2024 election year, is like “Nazi propaganda about Jewish people.” Domingo Garcia said Trump is using “pages from the Hitler Nazi playbook … to divide Americans and engage in tribalism.”
Garcia isn’t alone. “Experts in extremism and immigration policy have compared Trump’s ‘poisoning the blood’ remark to language used by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf, in which he told Germans to ‘care for the purity of their own blood’ by eliminating Jews,” the Post said.
Another expert told the Post that such “poisoning” and “pure-blood” language “has directly appealed to people in the past who have gone on to commit violence against minorities,” the Post said. The expert cited the 2019 El Paso massacre (victims were mostly Hispanic) and the 2018 Pittsburgh massacre (the Tree of Life synagogue, victims were Jews).
Not only is Trump advancing antisemitic propaganda, he’s undermining Israel and the president’s efforts to shore up support for it internationally. During an interview, Trump faulted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the worst acts of antisemitic violence in recent memory. “He has been hurt very badly because of what’s happened here,” Trump said. “He was not prepared and Israel was not prepared.”
And Trump praised Hezbollah, another paramilitary terrorist group. It’s based in Lebanon and, like Hamas, is backed by the government of Iran. “Hezbollah is very smart,” Trump said. “They’re all very smart.” (According to a poll taken in Israel, 86 percent said the Hamas attack was a failure of the country’s leadership, and that Netanyahu should resign. However, it’s one thing for Israelis to say Netanyahu was unprepared. It’s another for a trader in antisemitic propaganda.)
His comments follow a surge in antisemitism. According to one report, the Hamas attack “sparked a surge of online threats against Jews, intimidation of Jewish institutions and brazen displays of antisemitic symbols. Anti-Jewish threats on Telegram, a platform popular with Islamic State militants and white supremacists [my italics], surged by an alarming 488 percent in the first 18 hours of Saturday, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the oldest Jewish civil rights group in the US.”
That’s the part of the president’s statesmen’s balance that’s not getting enough attention. He must stand against anti-Jewish terrorists abroad. He must stand against anti-Jewish white supremacists at home. Testing that balance is Trump’s transparently fascist presidential campaign.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.