US President Joe Biden’s remarks praising Zionism during his maiden Middle East trip after taking office, cannot be taken lightly. His carefully worded statement that, “You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist”, was a clear manifestation of his ideological stand on the Zionist state of Israel.
Like his predecessors in the White House, though, Biden has conflated Zionism with Judaism, and that’s dangerous. Given that his pro-Zionist views are no secret, it is hard to believe that the US president does not understand the difference between Zionism and Judaism.
Judaism, like Islam and Christianity, is a Semitic religion at heart. Equating it with the xenophobic ideology of Zionism is tantamount to conflating Hinduism with Hindutva, the militant ideology propagated by India’s right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its political arm the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The reality is that Zionism is a racist ideology created by Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl and his followers in 1897 to expel the Palestinian people from the land that they had inhabited for centuries and to establish a “Jewish state” in Palestine. Herzl spoke neither Hebrew nor Yiddish. He had no Jewish education and was thoroughly secular. The creation of a “Jews only state” in Palestine, a land with an overwhelmingly non-Jewish population, was a racist project familiar to European settler-colonialism.
The State of Israel was created in the land of Palestine in 1948, after the British and US imperial powers signed up to the proposals developed successively by inter alia Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion over fifty years or so. None of those early Zionists and their ideology had religious visions for their project. Indeed, Zionism was rejected by Orthodox Jewry around the world until the 1930s and the rise of Nazism in Europe.
Even among Jewish communities around the world today, Zionism is a contested and controversial ideology. Many Jews in various parts of the world still reject the concept of a secularised “Promised Land”. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups like Neturei Karta and Satmar, for example, do not accept the establishment of a “Jewish state” in Palestine. As far as they are concerned, it is anti-Torah and anti-God.
In fact, Neturei Karta, an international and openly anti-Zionist group with a strong base in the United States, prays “for the peaceful dismantlement of the state of Israel.” One of its senior officials is Rabbi David Weiss, a well-known New York anti-Zionist. He makes it clear that Zionism is purely a nationalist ideology just over a hundred and twenty years old. Weiss questions the notion that “all Jews are Zionists and vice-versa”. Members of the movement wear badges stating “A Jew, not a Zionist” on their distinctive ultra-orthodox clothing.
Biden the “self-declared Zionist”
During his nine visits to Israel since being elected as a US Senator for Delaware in 1972, Joe Biden has never hidden his love for Zionism. His pro-Zionism remarks have stemmed from a conversation with his father, Joseph Biden Senior. He recalled one of these at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in 2014. “If I was I a Jew I’d be a Zionist,” he told his father, who replied, “You don’t need to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” However, Biden declared himself to be a Zionist earlier, during an interview with Shalom TV cable network in April 2007, after he was nominated as Barack Obama’s running mate.
His record shows that he has met ten Israeli prime ministers, including Golda Meir, who he met five weeks before Israel’s 1973 war with neighbouring Arab states. He recalled that meeting as “one of the most consequential” of his life.
Biden’s love for Zionism has roots in the Evangelical Christianity. So-called Christian Zionists in the US believe that Israel is “the promised Holy Land” of the Jews according to Biblical prophecy, and the “ingathering of the exiles [Jews]” must happen before the “Rapture” of the Apocalypse takes place. The late Grace Halsell called this “Forcing God’s Hand” in her 1999 book of the same name. President Harry S Truman, who recognised the State of Israel only eleven minutes after its creation, was a known Evangelical Christian. However, non-Evangelical presidents such as Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and George W Bush also professed a great love of Israel and its founding ideology, probably for very pragmatic electoral reasons.
Former President Jimmy Carter, though, had the courage to describe Israel’s policies as “apartheid” worse than what had been seen in South Africa during White minority rule. He was duly criticised severely for his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid which blasted Israel’s inhuman policies towards the Palestinians. Since its publication in 2006, Carter has been branded an “anti-Semite”, a common allegation used to shut down any criticism of Israel. Reaction to the book included the resignation of 14 members of a Carter Centre community board, who said that he placed too much blame on the Zionist state.
Endorsement of the Abraham Accords
Before embarking on his first trip to the Middle East as president, Biden made it clear that he wanted to deepen the integration of Israel within the region. This was an open endorsement of the so-called Abraham Accords crafted by his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden’s idea of integration is to persuade more Gulf and other Arab nations to have diplomatic ties with Israel. His effort failed miserably when Qatar’s Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani slammed Israel’s politics of force under which the Zionist state rejects concessions put forward by the Arab world.
The pro-Zionism statement of the US president came at a time when Palestinians continue to be denied justice and their legitimate rights in the Israeli-occupied territories as well as in Israel itself. Nevertheless, he has endorsed the racist policies and ideology of Israeli politicians from the highest level down.
The Israeli Knesset (parliament) approved the “Jewish Nation-State Law” on 19 July 2018, enshrining in law Jewish supremacy and the identity of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This legislation has far-reaching implications. Israel, the state which came into existence in 1948 through the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians at the point of a gun, has basically annulled its “Declaration of Independence”.
The declaration “calls upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and representation in all its bodies and institutions, provisional or permanent.” However, the Jewish Nation-State Law states categorically that Jewish settlements and the colonisation of Arab land is a “national value”. It makes it clear that only Jews are nationals of the Israeli state and the Palestinians, including Arab Israeli citizens, are guests to be tolerated at best.
While the European Union expressed concern over this legislation, Washington uttered no public criticism. Rather, it expressed satisfaction with the “assurances” it received from Israel.
The population of Israel stands today at 8.9 million people, of whom just over 20 per cent are Palestinian Arabs. Despite this demographic split, Israeli governments regard and treat Israeli’s Arab citizens as second-class people. According to Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, more than 65 laws are in place which discriminate openly against Arab citizens of Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It is enshrined in Israeli law that the state is historically the Jewish homeland and that the right to self-determination is limited to Jews.
A law declaring occupied Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel was passed by the Knesset in 1980 but was not endorsed by the international community because it was in violation of UN resolutions. In international law, Jerusalem is an occupied city and Israeli annexation is not recognised, which is why successive US presidents blocked the move by Congress to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, in defiance of international law, the Trump administration recognised occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on 6 December, 2017, and moved the US Embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.
Following Trump’s decision, the US vetoed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council which reaffirmed Jerusalem’s status as unresolved. The remaining 14 council members voted in favour of the said resolution drafted by Egypt.
Paying lip service to the Palestinians
Oddly, Joe Biden never misses an opportunity to portray himself as the champion of Palestinian rights, and proclaims the two-state “solution” to be the only one on the table for the Palestinian issue. When he embraces Zionist ideals unilaterally, though, and avoids uttering a single word about Jerusalem, which is envisaged by “two states” to be the capital of the future independent state of Palestine, his intention is clear.
This gives approval to Israeli leaders who declare repeatedly that there is no question of dividing the city of Jerusalem and that it will be the “undivided” capital of Israel forever. It also dashes Palestinian hopes for an independent state with its capital in East Jerusalem, which was seized from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed illegally by Israel.
After meeting Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah recently, Biden said that although he supports a two-state solution, the “ground is not ripe” for negotiations with Israel to reopen. He simply wants to drag the Palestinian issue out as long as he can — as his predecessors did — so that he doesn’t upset his Zionist friends.
Meanwhile, Biden has offered no substantive plan to redress Israel’s brutal military occupation, including the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, an issue highlighted by former President Barack Obama’s administration in which he served as Vice President.
The Biden administration may have restored financial support to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) last year — which was suspended by Trump in 2018 — but none of Biden’s promises to the Palestinians have been fulfilled. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor country, so the effect of Trump’s move was obviously catastrophic for the beneficiaries of its essential work.
The absence of fulfilled promises means that the US Consulate in East Jerusalem has not been reopened; it was closed by Trump. The consulate functioned as the primary venue for Washington’s outreach to the Palestinian Authority. The office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Washington, which acted as the de facto PA embassy to the US, was also closed by Trump but has not been reopened by his successor.
It is clear, therefore, that Joe Biden continues to pay lip service to Palestinians and their rights, but is doing nothing to change the staunchly pro-Israel policies of his immediate predecessor. Even his trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia had striking similarities to Trump’s visit to the region. The US president’s deep love for Zionism clearly outweighs his commitment to human rights and international law.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.