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Biden Will Take a Pass on Jordan

No, not that Jordan. The country of Jordan. During his Middle East trip, which commences today, Joe Biden was supposed to go to Israel to meet with PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and then head to Jordan for a sit down with King Abdullah II, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. However, after an explosion at a hospital in Gaza left hundreds of people dead, the leaders all agreed that it would neither be safe nor appropriate for Biden to go to Jordan. So it's just Israel.

On the subject of the President's travels, we wrote yesterday that, from where we sit, Biden seems to be handling this crisis very well. In response to that, reader J.E. in Brooklyn, NY, brings to our attention this article about the President's trip from The New York Times. If you think of the comments section as being something like a Democratic-leaning focus group, the early indications are... mixed. Quite a few commenters are with Biden all the way. Others are not happy, either because they think he is taking an unnecessary risk, or they think he hasn't done enough to free American hostages, or they think he is too strong/too weak in his support for Israel/the Palestinians.

The point here is that this is a rather more fraught foreign affairs crisis than is generally the case. With the attack on Ukraine, it was pretty clear who was in the right and who was in the wrong, unless you are Donald Trump. With Israel and Palestine, it's a little more complicated.

It's not only the comments section of the Times and other websites that speak to this, it's also the mail we've been getting from readers. If you look back at the most recent mailbag, there were relatively few 100% pro-Israel letters and considerably more "this situation is messy" and/or "Let's not give Israel a free pass" letters. We were neither surprised nor concerned that it worked out this way. It wasn't a surprise because if one is pro-Israel, there isn't too much to say, other than "I stand with Israel." On the other hand, if one thinks the current crisis is more complicated than that, there is quite a bit to say.

We weren't concerned, meanwhile, because we think it's very fair to say (or write) that what is happening right now is not as simple as "Israel good, everyone else bad." Reader S.C. in Mountain View, CA, puts it rather more succinctly than we could hope to do:

The war crimes that Hamas committed against Israeli civilians do not justify the war crimes that the State of Israel is now committing against the civilians who live in the Gaza Strip.

When I was a child in Sunday school in the late 1950s, bringing quarters my parents gave to me to the synagogue so that trees could be planted in Israel to make the desert bloom, my classmates and I were told that Israel was "a land without people for a people without land."

The first part of that phrase was a lie. It seems that there has been a 75-year project to erase the Palestinian people both figuratively and literally. It has to stop. The illegal settlements have to be removed. The people on both sides who hate each other have to step aside so that the people on both sides who are willing to compromise can achieve the lasting peace with justice that both sides deserve.

What it amounts to is that both the Israelis and the Palestinians (that's the Palestinians, mind you, not Hamas) have a compelling argument here.

In response to the mailbag, we got a number of messages taking exception to the general tone and tenor of the "it's complicated" letters. We expected that, as well. We definitely do not try to make readers upset, in hopes of provoking a response. After all, we are not Fox "News." But we can foresee when a strong response is forthcoming.

We've decided to share three of those response messages right now, for a couple of reasons. First, this is a big enough subject that it didn't quite feel right to let those very heartfelt letters sit there for a week. Second, it is a reminder of the main theme of this item, namely that the President has been handed an incredibly tricky challenge.

First up is S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam:

Given the leftward lean of and its readership, I was not entirely surprised to see letters sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and critical of the Israeli government. To an extent, I am in agreement with the sentiments expressed in the Sunday mailbag by some of these correspondents, particularly those of V.P. in New York and E.B. in Seattle.

That being said, it was a bit disconcerting to see the first two sections of the mailbag ("I Stand With Israel" and "The Other Side of the Story") be as lopsided as they were, with two very brief statements of support for Israel, followed by seven letters generally more critical of Israel than of Hamas. It couldn't have been clearer that Hamas is playing by an entirely different set of moral rules than Israel, and yet the criticism of Hamas from many on the left has been, at most, grudgingly offered, and frequently framed in terms that blame, or just stop short of blaming, the Israelis for Hamas's murderous rampage.

Take, for instance, the terse summary from J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, who wrote that "[V]iolence in response to 75 years of apartheid is evil and completely unjustified. At the same time, no one should be surprised at violence in response to 75 years of apartheid." At first glance, that appears to be a straightforward condemnation of Hamas. But then comes that second sentence, which reasons that nobody should be surprised by what happened. Thus, J.C. seems to be saying that "evil and completely unjustified" murders of innocent civilians are also entirely "unsurprising." If no act of depravity would surprise J.C., then what was the purpose of adding that sentence other than to offer a backdoor justification for Hamas's actions, and suggest that the Israelis had it coming?

Taking a different tack, C.L. in Boulder offers a more detailed justification for what happened, and attempts to prophylax against the charge of antisemitism by noting: (1) that Hamas's attack "had nothing to do with Israel being a Jewish state"; and (2) that antisemitism is used as a verbal cudgel to short-circuit any criticism of Israel's foreign policy. The first notion strongly suggests that C.L. has, at absolute best, a superficial understanding of the politics of Gaza; making a distinction between "Israel" and "Jewish state" is an attempt for C.L. to have the cake and eat it, too. But it's a hair short of pure fantasy. Here, for instance, is the conclusion to Article Seven of the Hamas Charter of 1988:
The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems [sic] fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say 'O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.' Only the Gharkad tree...would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.
This is most definitely not the kind of policy statement of a group that sees a distinction between Jews and Israelis, and it all but states that they also consider Jews who live outside the borders of Israel to be fair game for the kind of treatment they just meted out in southern Israel last week.

In the past 15 years there have been kinda-sorta partial backtracks issued by Hamas with respect to their charter, but they have never fully repudiated it, so it is safe to say that hatred of Jews, and not merely Israelis, remains very much at the root of Hamas philosophy and is shared by those who sympathize with them. Further, Hamas continues to refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist, which makes negotiations for a two-state solution a basic impossibility, since Hamas does not negotiate in good faith (the situation with the leadership in the West Bank is simultaneously more complicated but also marginally more hopeful).

I am inclined to agree with the notion that it's shortsighted and unproductive to accuse anyone who criticizes Israel of antisemitism. But I also think that there has been ample evidence this week of left-wing antisemitism. I would have hoped that the overt brutality of Hamas—actions which the Israeli army would never, ever organize or sanction against Palestinians—might have opened some eyes and lead to even a little self-examination of many on the left who equate Israel with apartheid-era South Africa or the like, but it's been a disappointing week.

Next, C.S. in Newport, Wales, UK:

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar commented "no one should be surprised at violence in response to 75 years of apartheid." I presume apartheid refers to the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. But the comparison is just wrong. Quite apart from the fact that the legal treatment of Palestinians in Israel and Palestine is different in many aspects from the one of Black people in South Africa, all that the ANC asked for was equality for everyone. They did not deny white South Africans their right to live in South Africa. Hamas, on the other hand, denies Israel's right to exist. In fact, the Hamas Foundation Charter repeatedly refers to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which surely means any statement from them must be assumed to be as truthful as any from Trump.

And finally, D.A in Riverdale, NY:

The many anti-Israel comments in your Sunday mailbag left me cold.

While there are many reasons to question Israeli government policy, no one mentioned the long history of murders committed by various Palestinian terrorists: Hamas, Al-Aqsa Brigades, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestine Liberation Organization, Abu Nidal organization, Hezbollah. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has neither the desire nor the ability to control these entities and absent that, a peaceful settlement will be nearly impossible.

My greatest hope for peace was when Salam Fayyad was recruited by the PA to install a functioning government, but his actions threatened to break the "Iron Rice Bowl" of corruption that permeates the PA. He was booted from his positions in the government.

Hamas' goals are quite clear. Simply read its charter: If there ever should occur a point in time where a PA would control or eliminate the terrorists in its midst and an Israeli government not beholden to the Israeli right-wing would take office, then and only then will peace develop.

I'm not holding my breath that those conditions will evolve in the foreseeable future.

Thanks to all for your thoughts. And good luck to Joe Biden, because he's gonna need it. (Z)

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