This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
There must be something about Joe Biden winning on Israel policy that drives Republicans nuts — especially when Israel’s government supports the Democrat in the White House.
This dynamic was on full display over the last several days, as President Biden achieved a stunning diplomatic breakthrough that Israel’s government has been seeking for more than a decade: clarity and security over its maritime border with Lebanon.
The Israel-Lebanon maritime border deal is the single most significant advancement towards peace on any of Israel’s borders since the Jordanian peace treaty of 1994. It is to be celebrated.
But unfortunately, the same Republicans who loudly proclaim their support for Israel aren’t interested in acknowledging successful diplomacy by a Democrat during an election season.
Look no further than Republican reaction to the deal.
Of the 23 positive congressional statements made last week about the deal, all but one came from Democrats. The lone Republican statement was from Darrell Issa, a Lebanese American who has long been a proponent of peace and diplomacy in the region. There was silence from the rest of the Republican conference.
Compare this to the Democratic response to the signing of the Trump-negotiated Abraham Accords in September 2020. Joe Biden welcomed them while a candidate in the heat of his own election campaign against Trump — demonstrating how he wasn’t going to play partisan politics with the peace process in the region.
Republicans have done the opposite now and it’s deeply troubling for Israel’s security. Israel depends upon bipartisan American support. Right now, it doesn’t appear to have it.
The reason for this, of course, is clear: Republicans for years have tried to use Israel policy as a political wedge to pry American Jewish voters away from Democrats. For them, supporting a pro-Israel agreement negotiated by a Democrat would undermine their political argument to Jewish voters, and so they reject it.
It’s instructive to look to former president Donald Trump’s statement on Truth Social last week, which was both awash in antisemitism and laid the Republican calculus out for all to see: American Jewish voters are guilty of “disloyalty,” he complained, because “No President has done more for Israel than I have.” Yet, he marveled, evangelicals are “far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S.”
Republicans look to the Israel issue to gain Jewish voter support because American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic, typically voting by margins of 70–75% for Democrats in each election.
Republicans just aren’t on the same page as Jewish voters on domestic issues, including abortion, climate change, and protecting the U.S.’s democratic processes. Instead, they use Israel as an opportunity to extract votes from the Jewish community, such as when Trump politicized his move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, hoping to use it for partisan gain. Judging by his recent statements, he feels that he deserved more votes than he got from the Jewish community, based solely upon his Israel policy.
This is why Republicans are reacting so furiously to Biden’s swiping of the Israel security issue right out from under their noses. Instead of celebrating Israel’s security victory, it’s more sour grapes for key Republicans who chart the party’s Middle East policy.
For example, take Trump’s former Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who tweeted after the deal was announced that “All Israel is getting is a ‘guarantee’ from the US. What does that say, what is the nature of America’s commitment, and why is that good for Israel or America?…”
Unfortunately for Friedman, Israel’s cabinet overwhelmingly supported the agreement (minus one abstention from far-right leader Ayelet Shaked). Israel’s security establishment is thrilled and apparently satisfied with America’s guarantees.
And then there’s Trump’s former top Middle East envoy, David Schenker, who suggested that Israel sold out… Israel! He argued that “…the proposition that the maritime deal makes Israel safer or promotes prospects for normalization with yet another Arab State is dubious… It’s difficult to imagine that Hezbollah won’t emerge from these negotiations emboldened by Israel’s decision to delay extraction, perhaps demonstrating undue flexibility to avoid another conflagration.”
Never mind the fact that those in charge of Israel’s security — the Israel Defense Forces — know that the deal is good for Israel’s northern border security. In fact, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency said that the agreement is not favored by Hezbollah because it constitutes a de facto recognition by Lebanon of Israel, something that Hezbollah opposes but has now come to accept.
It’s clear that Israel’s security leaders view this agreement as a victory for them over Hezbollah, regardless of the negative spin by Trump officials. If only Republican leaders would support them as well. Doing so would show real bipartisan support for Israeli security, but alas, they’re not.
So let’s now speak the quiet part out loud: Republicans know that Joe Biden has just secured an historic win for Israel’s security, which costs them politically. It’s clear that for them, support for Israel’s security is more about their own partisan political benefits than the actual policy benefits for Israel. And so they stay silent.
Kudos to Joe Biden for both backing Israeli security and making this Republican hypocrisy clear.