A ball of fire erupts from the Jala Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. Photo: AFP / Mahmud Hams

“Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect its interests.” – Joe Biden in 2015 when he was vice-president of the United States 

Having served for decades in the US Senate and afterward as the vice-president under Barack Obama, Palestinians, many Democratic voters and optimists, relieved to be experiencing the end of the Trump era, may have thought that Joe Biden would adopt a policy closely aligned to what he claims to support.

Joe Biden’s American leadership plan clearly stipulates three factors: 

  1. Fighting corruption. 
  2. Defending against authoritarianism, which includes election security. 
  3. Advancing human rights.

All of the above are points that President Biden has assured in the domestic and global context. But this bold and innovative agenda has unfolded rapidly into quite the opposite on the larger scale. 

Granted, it would be unfair to say that the Biden administration has not stood up for any oppressed people at all. It has been an outspoken critic of China’s human-rights violations against the Uighur population in Xinjiang. The reason? It is a viable critique to undermine China. Would the Uighurs matter to the Biden administration otherwise? The answer seems obvious. 

The Biden administration has also been critical of the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Once again, this falls under the Chinese human-rights violations category. According to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), “China has also come to the defense of the Myanmar government over the crisis in Rakhine state to the west, where the Tatmadaw has carried out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing, if not genocide, against the mostly Muslim Rohingya population.”

But with regards to the horrendous human-rights abuses being committed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India against Muslims, there has been silence. With regards to the almost daily enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by the government of Bangladesh in one of the worst demonstrations of authoritarianism and lack of freedom of expression in modern times, there has been utter silence from the White House. The list goes on. 

Joe Biden’s famous quote in January that the United States will now lead with “the power of our example rather than the example of our power” sounds great as political rhetoric to achieve applause and standing ovations from the crowds, but it was flagrantly absent during what the world witnessed in May between Palestine and Israel. 

As always, that was not a “confrontation,” nor a “conflict.” Knowing that Israeli settlers and the police raided Al Aqsa Mosque on the holiest night of the holiest month for Muslims, the US administration, particularly President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, went on auto-pilot, as did the mainstream media, claiming that Israel was merely “defending itself.” 

To add insult to injury, Biden decided to invite all American Muslims to virtual Eid celebrations. American Muslim organizations and Muslim members of the Democratic Party wrote a scathing letter to the organizers of the event stating, rightfully, that the White House could not be more wrong in applauding Israel for bombing Palestinians on one hand and sending out Eid invitations on the other. 

Biden’s administration (the State Department, in particular) also did not hesitate one moment to approve a $735 million arms sale to Israel within this time frame, in addition to the $3.8 billion the US government already sends per year as “aid.” 

Even when Israel broke the ceasefire that began on May 21, Biden said, “Israel’s air strikes on Gaza aren’t a significant overreaction.” 

Since taking office in January, President Biden has not even reversed the illicit steps his predecessor Donald Trump took, such as the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Considering that Joe Biden did place a great deal of importance on human rights, many may have expected that in order to demonstrate goodwill and a sharp turn from Trump’s abhorrent policies toward the Palestinians, Biden might handle the situation differently. However, Joe Biden and his administration failed to condemn the clearest violations of international law and human rights by Israel.

Biden’s bungled response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has surprised many and his image as a potential champion of human rights and international law has been badly damaged.

Is leading with “the power of our example” continuing to support, in every sense of the word, a regime that Human Rights Watch and Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem say is committing apartheid and persecution against humanity?

The saving grace in the US government is clearly the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, led by Senator Bernie Sanders and including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, just to name a few.

But the progressives are not alone. There are others such as Representative Betty McCollum, who introduced a bill that defends the human rights of Palestinian children, homes and lands and to stop Israel from using US tax dollars to destroy these very things indiscriminately. 

For the first time in US history, lawmakers are taking a firm stand to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes and human-rights abuses. There is no reason to think that this trend will be left at the back burner, and we can expect to see the Palestinian issue crop up on a regular basis at US election times. 

The American public has seen first hand on social media the extreme human-rights abuses Israel inflicts on the Palestinians, and so have the lawmakers who have stood up for what is right. 

However, President Biden, the self-proclaimed Zionist who proudly said that the almost $4 billion the US gives in “aid” to Israel is “the best investment,” has proved that his foreign policy “prioritizing human rights” is actually a means to condemn human-rights abuses committed only by those his administration considers foes. 

If that is the example President Biden is setting, it is simply not good enough. 

Sabria Chowdhury Balland

Sabria Chowdhury Balland is a political analyst focusing on the politics of the U.S. and Bangladesh in international publications. She is the co-author and editor of Bangladesh: A Suffering People Under State Terrorism (Peter Lang, 2020), A former elected member of the US Democratic Party overseas (Democrats Abroad). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Aequitas Review. She is also the Vice President & Treasurer of The Coalition for Human Rights & Democracy in Bangladesh based in the U.S.