Israelis Loved Biden’s Visit, but Republicans Use It for New Attack Lines

'His policies of his last year and a half have done so much to alienate our friends, and he’s desperately trying to repair those relationships,' Texas senator Ted Cruz said on Fox

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U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, sign a security pledge in Jerusalem, on Thursday.
U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, sign a security pledge in Jerusalem, on Thursday.Credit: MANDEL NGAN - AFP

When President Joe Biden left Israel on Friday afternoon, most of Israeli media described his visit as a success, focusing on how he lavished affection on Israelis over the course of his two-day visit and visibly refrained from any public pressure on contentious issues like settlements in the West Bank or the Iran nuclear deal.

But back in Washington, D.C., Republican politicians were painting a totally different picture of the visit, taking to the airwaves to accuse Biden of not, in fact, showing sufficient support for the Jewish state.

“He is not going there in a pro-Israel manner,” declared GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn on Fox News, as Biden landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday.

Biden, she said, went to Israel “because he had to.” Some of her arguments were plain wrong, such as emphasizing Biden’s ‘no handshake’ policy, which he himself had broken several times during the visit when he exchanged handshakes and hugs with Israelis, from former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to elderly Holocaust survivors.

But Blackburn also focused on a line of criticism that was also presented by some on the Israeli right-wing, attacking Biden for his refusal to allow Israeli officials to accompany him on his visit Friday to Augusta Victoria hospital in East Jerusalem. The president, according to Blackburn, showed that he is “pro-Palestine, pro-Iran, pro-Saudi Arabia and pro-China.”

Texas senator and former presidential hopeful Ted Cruz struck a similar tone on Fox as Biden’s trip progressed, saying that Biden “had” to travel to Israel and Saudi Arabia “because his policies of his last year and a half have done so much to alienate our friends, and he’s desperately trying to repair those relationships.” The U.S. president, he said in a conversation with Fox host and former Trump official Larry Kudlow, was trying to make up for having nominated “anti-Israel officials” in his administration and “consistently undermined” Israel.

Cruz pointed to the fact that White House spokesperson John Kirby had to “walk back” remarks by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday favoring the re-opening of a Palestinian consulate in East Jerusalem, clarifying that the U.S. stance on the consulate, which was closed by the Trump White House in 2019, had not changed. The US has refrained from opening the consulate thus far despite its position because of Israel’s opposition.

“It’s amazing that (Biden) took a one-day trip and managed to make things even worse,” Cruz said.

East Jerusalem was also the focus of a letter sent to the president by six Republican members of Congress, which called his visit there “a sign of continued support of the Palestinians in their illegitimate efforts to claim” the eastern part of the city.

Ahead of the visit, the letter, initiated by Rep. Beth Van Duyne of Texas, said that “a visit to East Jerusalem will reward the Palestinian Authority, which continues to support acts of terrorism.” She reiterated the fact that a majority of House Republicans oppose the reopening of the East Jerusalem consulate because while “Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state” Israel “considers the whole of Jerusalem, including the East, which it occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, as its indivisible capital.”

The GOP criticism was noticeably more muted when it came to Biden’s diplomatic efforts to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia closer, given that they are viewed as an expansion of President Donald Trump’s signature foreign policy achievement: the normalization of the relationship between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.

There were complaints that Trump’s contribution wasn’t sufficiently acknowledged by Biden, with Blackburn charging that Biden “won’t even mention the Abraham Accords.”

Both the Republican National Committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition took umbrage at Biden’s assertion in an interview on Israeli television that he was rebooting US involvement in the region when over the course of “the last administration, we sorta walked away from the Middle East.”

The RJC and its director Matt Brooks tweeted that this statement was “fundamentally false” since “under the last administration, the United States brokered the trailblazing, historic Abraham Accords - which continue to expand the circle of peace and prosperity in the Middle East.”

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