(JULY 13, 2022 / NATIONAL REVIEW) Israeli President Isaac Herzog is slated to give President Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Honor on Thursday, the second day of Biden’s visit to the Middle East. This seems to be more a diplomatic ploy than a legitimate reflection of how Israelis feel about Biden’s commitment to the Jewish state. (Such a ploy is not unprecedented: Former president Barack Obama, whose policies were often to Israel’s detriment, also received the medal.) But even so, given his administration’s record, Biden does not deserve this or any other medal from Israel.
Let’s start off with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision, four months into Biden’s presidency, to announce that the administration intended to reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, which handled diplomacy with the Palestinian Authority (PA) before the Trump administration shut it down in 2019. Biden needs the Israeli government’s approval to reopen the consulate, and it seems unlikely to be given, because, as Axios reported last month, Israel “vehemently opposes” the idea. When the consulate was shut down by Trump, the U.S. diplomats in charge of relations with the PA, who had until then reported directly to Washington, were transferred to a new Palestinian Affairs Unit within the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv and made to report to the U.S. ambassador. The Biden administration, aware that it would not get Israel’s approval to reopen the consulate, recently did the next best thing: It remade the Palestinian Affairs Unit as the independent Office of Palestinian Affairs, restoring the diplomats’ direct line to Foggy Bottom.
Biden’s substantive policies have been no better for Israel than his diplomatic moves. In 2021, he restored $235 million in funding to the Palestinians that Trump had slashed in 2018, including $75 million for economic and development assistance in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This was problematic for three main reasons.
First, the PA should not receive a dime from the U.S. government until it ends its so-called pay-for-slay program, which incentivizes Palestinians to commit terrorism by paying terrorists and their families as a reward for killing Israelis. The PA has thus far compensated over 36,000 terrorists through the program, which accounts for roughly eight percent of its annual budget. This is, needless to say, not the behavior of a government to which millions in U.S. taxpayer money should be flowing.
Second, UNRWA is a corrupt agency that exaggerates the number of Palestinian refugees by millions. It defines every descendant of a male Palestinian refugee who lived in Israel from June 1, 1946, to May 15, 1948, as a Palestinian refugee, creating inflated refugee estimates that are then weaponized by antisemitic groups such as the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement to pressure Israel to allow Palestinians the “right of return,” a move that would destroy Israel’s Jewish identity.
Finally, Blinken announced that part of that $150 million in funding for the UNRWA would be used to educate 500,000 Palestinian boys and girls. This sounds admirable, until one notices that the UNRWA was just caught educating Palestinian youth with antisemitic materials, some of which teach the denial of Israel’s right to exist. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), a London- and Ramat Gan–based watchdog organization, found that the material included “texts that glorify waging war and sacrificing one’s life and blood to liberate the ‘motherland.’” Moreover, the group discovered that the material accuses Jews of seeking to kill the prophet Muhammad and destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The material refers to Israel as “the Zionist Enemy,” “the Zionist Entity,” and “the Zionist Occupation” and claims the Jewish state was “created by European colonialism to divide the Arab world.” If Blinken does not decide to rescind funding to UNRWA based on this revelation, we will know where the Biden administration stands on Israel.
Beyond the $235 million in funding, the Biden administration has been working, against vociferous Israeli opposition, to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, which would put Israel’s security at risk in order to score a foreign-policy “win.” The negotiations don’t appear to be progressing; the latest talks ended without a resolution in June, and for a variety of reasons, it will be difficult for Biden to re-enter the deal. But the administration may just be desperate enough to do so anyway. National-security adviser Jake Sullivan said as much on June 8: “There is, in our view, a deal on the table that would effectuate a compliance-for-compliance return to the JCPOA without dealing with extraneous issues.”
Last but not least, the Biden administration has issued harsh condemnations of Israel’s building settlements in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank), the heart of the Jewish people’s biblical homeland. While the administration has not formally rescinded the Trump administration’s legal recognition of such settlements’ legitimacy, it has returned to the long-standing policy of condemning their construction, which is disappointing, if not surprising. In any future peace agreement with the Palestinians, the settlements will likely be annexed by Israel. That is the reality on the ground, and it will not change, which means that the administration’s condemnation has no practical purpose; it can only serve to exacerbate bilateral tensions with Jerusalem.
It should be noted that Biden has taken some actions that have benefited the Jewish state. As part of a $1 billion aid package Biden signed into law this spring, the U.S. re-funded the Iron Dome missile-defense system after Israel’s eleven-day war with Hamas. And the Biden administration is brokering a deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia that will nudge the Saudis in the direction of officially normalizing relations with Israel. These acts should be acknowledged. But Biden’s other actions, which run contrary to Israel’s interests, dwarf the positive contributions he has made and should disqualify him from receiving the honor he’s due to accept from President Herzog tomorrow.
This article was originally published in the National Review and can be viewed here.