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Biden Faces Political Dilemma Concerning Israel Policy

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The Biden administration has found itself in a political bind over its Israel policy, as it grapples with mounting frustration towards the Israeli government. This reversal of Trump-era policy on settlements in the occupied West Bank comes at a crucial time, just days before the Democratic primary in Michigan, where a significant Arab American population is urging voters to register their anger by voting “uncommitted.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s recent condemnation of new settlements as “inconsistent with international law” marks a break from the Trump administration’s stance and a return to the traditional U.S. position. The Biden administration’s increasing dissatisfaction with Israel’s actions in the Gaza war and beyond has been evident, with officials now publicly addressing contentious issues.

While some consider these actions by the Biden administration as a step in the right direction, others see them as too little, too late. Nimrod Novik, a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum think tank, pointed out that the administration’s moves lack a clear overall strategy, despite sending a message through these tactical statements.

The United States has historically been a key ally of Israel, offering unwavering support. However, recent events, including the Gaza war, have strained this relationship. The Biden administration has faced criticism for backing Israel’s actions in Gaza, while also attempting to press for negotiations towards a Palestinian state.

This delicate balancing act has left President Biden in a precarious position, with his efforts to push for peace drawing ire from both pro-Israel supporters and critics alike.

Arab Americans and progressive voters who initially applauded Biden’s pro-Israel stance have now grown disillusioned with the administration’s policies. The Republican Jewish Coalition, which previously supported Biden, has criticized the new settlement policy as undermining Israel’s interests.

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While the administration has taken some steps to address settler violence and pressure Netanyahu’s government, it has fallen short of meeting the demands of progressive voters and Arab Americans. Calls for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and a halt to U.S. military aid to Israel are gaining momentum, putting further pressure on the Biden administration.

The declaration by Secretary Blinken regarding settlements was prompted by Israel’s plans for new housing units in the West Bank, a move that contradicts the U.S.’s goal of a two-state solution. Palestinian officials have welcomed the stance but consider it long overdue and insufficient.

Despite these developments, analysts believe that the Biden administration is unlikely to take significant action against Israel in the near future. With efforts focused on mediating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, a public confrontation with Netanyahu may not be in Biden’s best interest.

While President Biden pledged to reverse some of his predecessor’s policies on Israel, many aspects remain unchanged, raising concerns among progressives and Arab Americans. The delicate dance between supporting Israel and addressing Palestinian concerns continues to pose challenges for the administration.

The Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Palestine conflict reflects a complex web of domestic and international pressures. As the political landscape evolves, President Biden must navigate between competing interests while striving to uphold U.S. values and diplomatic commitments.

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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