by Ali Abunima, published on The Electronic Intifada, May 22, 2020
Joe Biden has released his plan for Palestinians and Israelis.
Interestingly it is not in his campaign website’s foreign policy section, but falls under the title “Joe Biden and the Jewish Community.”
This is a clear indication that he views the matter as one of domestic political pandering, without the normal pretense that it is about pursuing “peace” or “US interests.”
It is also evidence that Biden holds the anti-Semitic belief that American Jews are, or should be, primarily concerned about Israel, something Donald Trump has been castigated for in recent years by the liberal press.
The webpage mentions Israel 21 times! It reads as an Israel lobby wish list of anti-Palestinian and anti-Iran policies – and that’s precisely what it is.
Amid promises to support practically any hardline pro-Israel policy you can think of, there is only a passing reference to a “two-state outcome,” and it makes no mention of Palestinian rights – standard, tedious fare for mainstream American politicians.
But one line in particular stands out – the former vice president’s attack on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
Biden pledges to “Firmly reject the BDS movement, which singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into anti-Semitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices.”
Choices? Did Palestinians choose to be expelled from their homeland by Zionist militias in 1947 and 1948?
Have they chosen to live under Israeli military occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967?
It is striking how the liberal language of “choice” deployed against Palestinians internationally closely echoes the justifications used domestically since the Reagan era to support mass incarceration and to attack social safety nets that supported poor, particularly Black communities.
In this framework, the poverty of those with the least power is always a result of their own moral failings – a resurrection of Victorian notions of the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor.
Beginning with his 1976 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan notoriously embellished a single extreme case of a Chicago woman who had defrauded public assistance programs to create the enduring racial stereotype of the “welfare queen.”
As writer Josh Levin notes, this
“vicious, baseless caricature demonized some of the nation’s most vulnerable people, laying the groundwork for bipartisan welfare reforms that slashed direct aid to the poor.”
Biden eagerly took it up himself: In the late 1980s, he admitted there may be no truth to the narrative of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars,” but nonetheless deployed it to justify his support for Reagan’s cuts.
The underlying logic was that it wasn’t an American system built on centuries of genocide, enslavement of Black people, segregation and rampant capitalism that created and entrenched poverty and inequality, but bad “choices” by individuals who now had to be forced by a punitive state to take “personal responsibility.”
A perfect encapsulation of this approach was the Clinton administration’s “welfare reform” law of 1996, which resulted in an increase in extreme poverty: It was named the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.”
As a senator, Biden, of course, voted for that law – a decision he’s unwilling to defend today.
Biden will keep Trump’s policies
Yet the “welfare reform” approach remains alive and well in Biden’s plan for Palestinians.
He says he would “reverse” the Trump administration’s cuts of humanitarian and “security” aid to Palestinians, but only subject to requirements that the Palestinian Authority “is taking measures to end acts of violence against Israeli and US citizens, including terminating payments to individuals engaged in acts of terrorism.”
Palestinians, like young Black Americans, are always the ones cast as superpredators.
Palestinians must jump through endless hoops, whose height is always set by Israel and its lobby, according to their own interests and definitions.
Incidentally, aid cuts are the only policy Biden says he will reverse.
He is totally silent about Trump’s decisions to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s occupied Golan Heights and of East Jerusalem, his move of the US embassy, as well as Trump’s declaration that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are legal.
Biden’s proposals include no word of opposition to the new Israeli government’s plans to annex even more of the West Bank.
And he pledges to continue the record levels of military aid the Obama-Biden administration gave Israel in order to ensure – no strings attached – that “Israel will always maintain its qualitative military edge.”
Unlike the punishment meted out to Palestinians, who have had no choice in being colonized by Israel, Israel will not be held responsible for its bad choices, but will continuously be rewarded for them.
The same punitive logic underlies the system of mass incarceration targeting Black communities described by Michelle Alexander in her landmark 2010 book The New Jim Crow.
In the wake of the civil rights movement, Biden joined forces with segregationist senators to prevent Black students from joining their white counterparts in the nation’s classrooms.
And Biden has notoriously bragged about his role in helping put many of those young Black people behind bars.
“The truth is,” Biden declared in 1993,
“every major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the State of Delaware: Joe Biden.”
It’s so damn gross.
Joe Biden is the modern architect of mass incarceration.
🚨I need you to see this. 🚨
1. Listen as he literally calls it “The Biden Crime Bill.”
2. Then listen as he brags about giving the death penalty to (Black) people for everything but jaywalking. pic.twitter.com/oVZa3n10zl
— Shaun King (@shaunking) March 6, 2020
The Delaware senator was also one of the chief proponents of the 1994 Bill Clinton crime bill that further increased racialized mass incarceration.
Biden had warned that it was needed to deal with “predators on our streets” who were “beyond the pale.”
Obama-Biden administration’s racism
One of Biden’s chief selling points is his role as President Barack Obama’s vice president. But far from representing a break with his racist past, it provided an opportunity for its continuation, with respectable cover.
After all, Obama himself eagerly adopted Reagan-era racist tropes in order to attack Black communities.
For instance, in a 2013 commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black institution, Obama admonished the graduating students that “too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices.”
“Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict Black people – and particularly Black youth – and another way of addressing everyone else,”
Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates observed at the time.
“I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard [College] that – there’s no longer room for any excuses – as though they were in the business of making them.”
In a speech the same year marking 50 years since the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr., Obama, “resurrect[ed] Ronald Reagan’s phantom armies of ‘Welfare Queens,’” as Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford put it.
Biden now purports to have disavowed some of his anti-Black racism – though there is little reason to believe that he would fundamentally change after a career spent promoting right-wing policies.
(Indeed, last year, Biden reassured rich donors that if he is elected president, “No one’s standard of living would change. Nothing would fundamentally change.”)
Similarly, when it comes to Palestinians, the bigotry remains fully intact, both in rhetoric and in substance.
In reality it is Israel, which subjects millions of Palestinians to brutal oppression, that is allowed to do as it pleases while living large off the American taxpayer.
Meanwhile, Palestinians, corralled in bantustans and ghettos, and habitually bombed by Israel and murdered by its snipers, are admonished for their poor “choices.”
*Featured Image: Joe Biden’s platform is an Israel lobby wish list. (Gage Skidmore)
Ali Abunimah is a Palestinian-American journalist who the earliest US proponent of a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He has served as the Vice-President on the Board of Directors of the Arab American Action Network, is a fellow at the Palestine Center, and is a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.