Biden Must Stand Up to Netanyahu

Robert Reich / Robert Reich's Substack
Biden Must Stand Up to Netanyahu Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich. (photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

Biden must stand up to Netanyahu


I’m deeply troubled that the Biden administration continues to approve the transfer of thousands more bombs to Israel.

Not only does this further our moral complicity in the bloodbath in Gaza, but it gives away whatever bargaining leverage the Biden administration might have to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from further death and destruction in Gaza.

One need not take sides in this war to be horrified by the killing of tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

Of course Hamas deserves condemnation for seeking the obliteration of Israel and for the inhumanity it wrought on October 7. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu deserves condemnation for killing over 30,000 Palestinians living in Gaza, a large percentage of them children. By May, the World Food Program and others suggest that half the population of Gaza may be on the verge of catastrophic starvation.

I believe Joe Biden genuinely wants this conflict to end. I believe he truly thinks Israel’s operation to go after Hamas has been “over the top,” as he’s said, in terms of it’s being wildly disproportionate to the odious actions Hamas took on October 7. I believe Biden was truly “outraged and heartbroken” by the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza earlier this week that killed seven aid workers for the charity group World Central Kitchen. And I believe he really does want to draw a “red line” and prevent Netanyahu from mounting a planned invasion of Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinian refugees have sought shelter.

Despite all this, the Biden administration has been unwilling to impose a single cost or consequence that would translate into real pressure on Netanyahu. Instead, the U.S. has just authorized the transfer of billions of dollars’ worth of more military equipment to Israel. It just approved a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs and 20 F-35s.

Beyond America’s moral complicity in the bloodbath in Gaza, there is also politics — here in America and in Israel.

Americans are no longer willing to provide unconditional support to the Israeli government as it kills and starves ever more Palestinians. Many Democratic voters are unhappy with Biden’s inability or unwillingness to confront Netanyahu, the most right-wing prime minister of the most right-wing government Israel has ever had.

Netanyahu, for his part, needs to keep this war going for his own political survival. He knows that if the war stops, he is probably going to lose power.

We can and we must get tough with Netanyahu. The U.S. government has the authority to suspend an arms package any time before delivery.

Granted, it is politically difficult to confront an Israeli prime minister. I was in the Clinton administration when Netanyahu met with him in June of 1996. I heard Clinton explode after that meeting, “Who’s the fucking superpower here?”

But there comes a time when America must stand up even to our closest allies when those allies are in the wrong. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower threatened sanctions if the Israelis did not withdraw from Sinai. That was just before an American election. The Israelis did withdraw. Eisenhower was reelected.

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