Biden on Gaza: Generosity or weakness?

Recently, I sent a question to two of our oldest and dearest friends, Dr. Susan and Dr. Omar Razzaz. Susan is a New Jersey girl who was my husband’s housemate when John and I met and she had just started dating Omar, a doctoral student at Harvard. Omar is the former prime minister of Jordan, whose mother was born in Gaza.

My question was about President Biden’s efforts to provide food and tents to Gazans by parachute and the construction of a seaside pier to bring in supplies. I asked, “Were these efforts by Biden generosity or weakness?”

Their reflections on my question were thoughtful and emotionally charged. Susan conceded that an argument could be made that delivering 125,000 meals to a population of 2.3 million was an act of generosity, but she immediately contrasted that with the billions of dollars in military aid provided to Israel by the US to bomb civilians. She added, “How ironic it is to offer food and temporary shelter to people that you just made homeless!”

Regarding the building of a temporary port, it was noted that Gaza has had a port but, like the whole coastline, that port is controlled and blockaded by the Israelis. The fact remains that it is easier to bring large containers of supplies by land routes. In his New York Times column on March 16, Nicholas Kristoff commented on Biden’s supply plan, “To Netanyahu and most of the world, it looks like weakness.”

It does not take much imagination to extrapolate that most of the Arab and Muslim world views Biden as spineless for not insisting that Israel allow trucks in large numbers to enter Gaza by roads now blocked by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Said Palestinian-American journalist Rami Khouri in an Instagram post: “UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, estab.1949) is the most efficient food distributor in Gaza, and the United States is trying to destroy UNRWA because Israel asked it to …. the Americans defunding UNRWA is a criminal activity, because it has massive implications for the well-being and even survival of Palestinians in Gaza.” 

Susan also said, “Personally, if I were a Gazan, it would be difficult to be thankful for a sandwich and a tent from someone who killed my family members and destroyed my home. If I were a Gazan, I’d prefer to have access to my own port and be allowed to live in my house and farm my land.”

I find this reasoning compelling.

I have maintained previously in this space that there are a multitude of reasons for Biden to detach himself from Netanyahu. US Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader in the Senate and the highest elected Jewish person in US history, has now called for Israelis to remove Netanyahu by holding elections soon.

Susan points out that “The US doesn’t need to use words to “tell” Israel to stop: halting the flow of military support would result in a stop.” Khouri agrees, “If the US is serious about helping reduce civilian suffering in Gaza, it has very, very simple, quick ways to do it, which is to lay down the law with the Israelis and say, ‘You have to stop obstructing the delivery of food and medicine and other things into Gaza, or else we’re going to stop the delivery of arms and funds and diplomatic protection at the UN.’”

Kristof recalled that in 1982, President Reagan, reacting to Israeli bombings of Palestinians in southern Lebanon, said he told Prime Minister Menachem Begin that “it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately and said the symbol of his war was becoming a picture of a 7-month-old baby with its arms blown off.” Twenty minutes later, Reagan added, “he called to tell me he’d ordered an end to the barrage and pled for our continued friendship.”

Now that we are in the 2024 election season, Biden’s detachment from Netanyahu seems even more imperative. As Nancy Reagan was fond of saying, “Just say no!” It would be a disaster of global proportions if Biden were to allow Netanyahu to drag him down to defeat in November, an outcome that would suit the Israeli leader completely.

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