Israeli Billboards Thanking the U.S. Have a New Face on Them: Biden’s

Not long ago, Donald J. Trump occupied enormous psychological space in Israel and among American Jews: His face draped skyscrapers alongside Benjamin Netanyahu’s during Israeli elections, and his politics drove a wedge between the Democratic Party and the Jews who have long called it their political home.

But it is President Biden’s face that now beams from a billboard over the main highway through Tel Aviv, and Mr. Trump’s criticism of Israel’s leaders that has left even Israeli conservatives stunned.

The president is suddenly finding warm embraces for his response to the worst terrorist attack in the Jewish State’s history in the most unlikely places.

“This will sound surprising, but by and large, the president has shown tremendous support, unwavering support, for Israel at a critical time,” said Matt Brooks, the longtime head of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group with close institutional ties to the G.O.P. and to some of its biggest donors. “Can we quibble on aspects of policy differences, over Iran’s complicity, for instance? Sure. But by and large, the American people and the international community have seen a president who has stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel.”

No less than Mr. Trump’s hawkish former ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, wrote online that while he remained a critic of the Biden administration, “the moral, tactical, diplomatic and military support that it has provided Israel over the past few days has been exceptional.”

Mr. Biden’s speech condemning the “evil” perpetrated by Hamas that killed more than 1,200 Israelis, his swift offer of military assistance, and the presence of his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on Israeli soil have all won remarkable plaudits. A vast billboard in Tel Aviv thanks the president for his response. A video circulating on Israeli social media channels placed Mr. Biden’s speech on the terrorist attacks against clips of Hamas atrocities and Holocaust imagery.

The moment amounted to a return to the kind of staunch bipartisan bond between Israel and the United States that had been questioned during the Trump administration, as Republicans allied themselves with the Israeli right and some liberal Democrats called for reducing or imposing conditions on foreign aid and military assistance to Israel.

Now, as Mr. Biden finds himself plunged into a wartime relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his strong support has wiped away those tensions, Israeli analysts and officials said.

“His speech was remarkable, very emotional. It came at the right time, when the morale in Israel was very low and we’re still digesting the number of casualties,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and chairman of the international branch of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud. “The people of Israel felt that it came from his heart, and we appreciate that.”

Attila Somfalvi, a senior political analyst and commentator on Israeli television, was equally effusive. “At a moment when Israelis were shocked, traumatized, and had really lost confidence in themselves and their military and intelligence,” he said in a telephone interview, “President Biden gave us back the feeling that we are not alone, and — maybe more important — that we can walk proudly.”

He added that the criticism of Mr. Netanyahu and of Israeli intelligence failures that was leveled by Mr. Trump in a speech on Wednesday had come as a shock to a country that had been broadly supportive of Mr. Trump throughout his administration.

Not long ago, former President Donald Trump graced billboards alongside Benjamin Netanyahu during Israeli elections. But now Mr. Trump’s criticism of Israel’s leaders has left even Israeli conservatives stunned.Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ishay Coen, a religiously conservative journalist, posted a clip of Mr. Trump’s speech on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, writing in Hebrew, “Every Israeli should pray that Biden will continue for a second term.”

The warm feelings for Mr. Biden could cool if international support erodes over Israel’s retaliatory attacks in Gaza or if Israeli society splinters over a protracted ground campaign.

And Mr. Biden still has staunch critics on the conservative fringes of Jewish society in both Israel and the United States. Morton Klein, head of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, dismissed the president’s response to the attacks as “just words” and insisted Israelis were not fooled, just traumatized, even if a billboard in Tel Aviv says otherwise.

“All that billboard says is ‘We’re scared to death, Mr. America. Please rescue us,’ ” Mr. Klein said. “That says nothing about Israelis’ support for Biden.”

But even some Jewish Republicans openly praised the administration’s response.

“Everything he said is extremely positive and the exact things that I would have hoped a president of the United States would say,” said Fred Zeidman, a Texas businessman and major fund-raised for Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who is running to challenge Mr. Biden in 2024. “There is nothing I’m going to do to be critical of Joe Biden at this point.”

After the Hamas attacks, the president told aides he wanted to join a meeting with Jewish leaders who had been scheduled for a White House meeting on antisemitism before the crisis, according to Nathan J. Diament, executive director for public policy for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish organizations in the country.

Mr. Diament, whose members lean more politically conservative than much of the Jewish American population, compared the meeting to another moment 80 years ago, in 1943, when hundreds of rabbis marched to the White House to plead with Franklin D. Roosevelt to save European Jews from the Nazis. They were denied an audience.

“There’s no question that so far, plenty of people who probably did not vote for Joe Biden are very appreciative of what he has said and what he has done,” he said.

The shocking bloodshed in Israel has given the Biden administration a chance to reset relations with Israel on a more traditional footing, more in keeping with Mr. Biden’s long years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee than with the strained periods he has witnessed from the White House.

As vice president, Mr. Biden had to contend with the bad blood that opened up between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration over a nuclear accord with Iran that the prime minister openly tried to torpedo.

After four years in which Mr. Trump, did virtually everything Mr. Netanyahu asked, including withdrawing from that accord, Mr. Biden’s presidency coincided with the return to power of Mr. Netanyahu and the formation of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

That government’s efforts to weaken the Israeli judiciary, bolster the power of far-right religious parties and expand settlements on occupied territory badly strained relations with American Jews, about three-quarters of whom are Democrats.

The Hamas attacks — and the Biden administration’s response — have so far not only united a fractured Israeli society but also buried animosities between the world’s two largest Jewish communities, in Israel and the United States.

Speaking for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yinam Cohen, the consul general of Israel to the Midwest, praised Mr. Biden for a “moral clarity” that “lifted the spirit of Israelis amid the greatest tragedy that has occurred in the 75 years of our existence.”

“History will remember President Biden as a guardian of the Jewish State,” he said.

Republican presidential candidates have tried to turn the crisis into a political liability for Mr. Biden. Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, said the president had “blood on his hands” for unfreezing $6 billion for humanitarian needs in exchange for the release from prison of five Americans now under house arrest until the money is distributed. The National Republican Congressional Committee on Thursday tried to hit vulnerable House Democrats on the same issue.

Then the Biden administration and Qatar reached an agreement on Thursday to refreeze those assets.

Mr. Trump, the prohibitive front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has not helped his cause with Jews in either Israel or the United States. His dinner last November with the performer Kanye West, who had already been denounced for making antisemitic statements, and with Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and Holocaust denier, had earned the condemnation of some Trump allies. Then, Israelis on Thursday woke up to clips of the former president criticizing Mr. Netanyahu, mocking a senior Israeli military official and finger-wagging at a vaunted Israeli security apparatus that he said was unready for Hamas.

The Trump campaign rushed out statements attesting to the loyalties he had fostered in Israel when he was still the president.

But the damage may have been done.

“I think what Israelis got about Trump today was the ego,” Mr. Somfalvi, the journalist, said. “It’s so childish.”

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