The term “useful idiots” describes those who should know better than to support causes that threaten them but do so anyway.
The adage “Hanlon’s Razor” states that one should “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” and aims to eliminate improbable explanations for human behavior. The term “useful idiots” describes those who should know better than to support causes that threaten their natural interests but do so anyway (the phrase was famously applied to western progressives who shilled for the Soviet Union despite its totalitarian contempt for western freedoms). Hanlon’s Razor never assumes ill-intent, while useful idiocy suggests a degree of willfulness; but both presuppose the inevitability of bad acts. Thus, negative conduct is the one constant, whether motivated by animus or ignorance.
And either term can be used to describe those who – irrespective of intent – continue to support an administration pushing policies that disregard Jewish historical rights, reward terrorism, interfere with Israeli domestic politics, seek appeasement with Iran, and threaten Israel’s safety and security
As has been widely reported, the Biden administration recently reinstituted an Obama-era prohibition against the use of American tax-dollars to subsidize joint US-Israeli research and development projects at institutions in Judea and Samaria. This ban was suspended during the Trump administration because it effectively constituted an anti-Israel boycott and falsely presumed the illegality of Israel’s possession of Judea and Samaria, though Israeli control of these territories does not constitute unlawful “occupation” as defined under the customary international laws of war or Fourth Geneva Convention.
The Biden administration also reinstituted funding to the Palestinian Authority, which before its suspension was partly used to pay terrorists or the families of terrorists who attacked Israelis and Americans in what was dubbed “pay-for-slay.” During the Obama years, the PA routinely diverted American funds to pay terrorists – until the flow of cash was halted in 2020 by the Taylor Act under former President Trump. After Biden resumed transferring funds to PA-controlled NGOs and programs claimed to be beyond the scope of the Taylor Act, enraged terror victims filed suit in federal court to stop him and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken from bypassing the law and financially enabling terrorism.
The administration’s actions underscore its antipathy for Israel and the unbridled hostility of progressives for the Jewish State. Mr. Biden’s true priorities are also evidenced by his obsessive opposition to PM Netanyahu’s efforts to introduce much needed judicial reforms, his snubbing of Netanyahu as Israel’s head of state, his policies courting Iran publicly and behind the scenes, and his administration’s public embrace of Congressional antisemites, BDS advocates, and anti-Israel zealots.
As contentious as these actions are, they have not seemed to cool the ardor of many Jewish Democrats for this president or their party. Indeed, as the administration’s regard for Israel has degenerated and its embrace of antisemites has become more brazen, the party faithful have chosen to remain willfully ignorant – unlike Jewish members of the British Labour Party who staged a protest exodus a few years ago when party leader Jeremy Corbyn spouted and then doubled down on outrageous anti-Israel rhetoric echoing antisemitic tropes.
Though most Jewish Democrats believe they support Israel and oppose antisemitism, their failure to acknowledge Jew-hatred within their party, on the left, and in minority communities is consistent with party leadership’s disregard for Jewish history and Israeli national integrity. Indeed, such priorities are viewed as embarrassing by many progressives, whose gut reaction to Jewish tradition and historical rights is to reject them, blame Jewish behavior for provoking liberal and minority antipathy, and lend credibility to all who falsely accuse Israel of human rights abuses or apartheid.
In contrast, Jewish political conservatives and independents are more apt to differentiate secular politics from Jewish values, respect Jewish tradition, and value Israel as a Jewish state. They also tend to be assertive in chastising Biden for bullying Israel and Democratic leaders for coddling antisemitic progressives within their ranks – including outspoken members of their Congressional caucus.
It seems today’s progressives have learned nothing from history, as illustrated by the disturbing parallels between them and those who blindly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt during the years leading up to and including the Second World War. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Like Biden today (and Obama before him), Roosevelt was supported by the majority of Jewish voters and relied on influential Jews as trusted advisors – among them financier Bernard Baruch and Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau. Yet, he had no affinity for traditional Jews and seemed largely indifferent to Jewish suffering. Even worse, his administration tried to suppress news of the Holocaust to appease the Arab world, and accordingly adopted the report of special Mideast envoy, Lt. Col. Harold Hoskins, who characterized news of Nazi genocide as “Zionist propaganda.” Following Hoskins’ lead, Secretary of State Cordell Hull advocated a do-nothing approach while Jews were being rounded up, gassed, and incinerated in Europe.
When solicited by Roosevelt, many of his Jewish acolytes assisted in discrediting those who publicly discussed the Holocaust (e.g., Hillel Kook aka Peter Bergson and screenwriter Ben Hecht), supposedly to prevent distraction from the war effort. In addition, his administration refused to lift immigration restrictions to offer escapees safe harbor, effectively condemning many to the death camps. Among other reasons for Roosevelt’s aversion to accepting refugees may have been his stated belief that Jews were overly represented in the American professions.
Whatever the reason, Roosevelt showed little inclination to stop the genocide or rescue its victims until far too late; and his Jewish devotees should have known better than to assist him in burying news out of Europe and portraying anti-Holocaust advocates as rabblerousers and provocateurs.
Though unfettered Jewish support for Roosevelt certainly seems morally ambiguous in retrospect, it did not facilitate Germany’s aggression. Moreover, because the British White Paper impeded escape from Europe by severely restricting Jews’ immigration to their homeland, many saw American victory as the greatest chance for salvation (though actually saving Jews was clearly not a Roosevelt priority). Although Jewish Democrats were wrong about his supposed philosemitism, they were not supporting policies that empowered the Axis alliance; and despite his failure to save Jews, Roosevelt did not seek appeasement with Germany. Neither did he blame the Jews for creating their own predicament.
In contrast, Biden resumed a partial boycott against Israel when he reinstated the Obama-era ban on funding for joint American-Israeli research and development projects in Judea and Samaria. He also in effect resumed enabling terrorism by ordering the reinstitution of payments to the PA. Thus, Biden’s policies actually do empower enemies of the Jewish state.
In what foreign policy universe are such actions politically sensible, strategically sound, or morally acceptable?
Moreover, like Obama before him, Mr. Biden (or whoever is directing his administration’s policy) is intent on appeasing Iran despite its stated intention to perpetrate another Holocaust. Given Iran’s role in exporting terrorism and destabilizing the region, the only sound foreign policy strategy would seem to be containment or regime change. Yet, Biden continues to pine for a nuclear deal that, if based on Obama’s template, would provide a roadmap for Iran to develop functional nuclear weapons, not deter it from doing so.
In addition, Biden’s administration continues to undercut Netanyahu’s political legitimacy by refusing to welcome him to the White House as a foreign head of state. Biden is also interfering with Israeli domestic politics by (a) falsely labeling Netanyahu’s judicial reform initiative “anti-democratic” (though the changes sought are actually more consistent with the US court system), and (b) offering encouragement (and perhaps dollars) to antigovernment protestors.
Considering the administration’s dubious tactics, those who continue to support it are enabling policies that compromise the safety and security of Jews in Israel and perhaps the Diaspora. Some do so out of ignorance, and others because they reject Jewish tradition, history, and national identity in favor of progressive ideology that devalues Israel and promotes Palestinian revisionism.
It is certainly possible to question specific Israeli policies without being antisemitic. But reproval that demonstrates malicious bias would seem to fail the “Three-D Test” articulated by Natan Sharansky, which holds that criticism of Israel is antisemitic when it delegitimizes, demonizes, or employs double-standards to disparage the Jewish state.
Those who support Biden’s agenda today have the potential to cause greater harm than those who blindly supported Roosevelt eighty-plus years ago, because Biden’s policies effectively threaten Israel and denigrate Jewish history and continuity. In this age of instant information, it is inconceivable that anyone can claim ignorance. Therefore, the ultimate question for Jews who advocate for an administration so hostile to Israel is how long they can tolerate policies that delegitimize and existentially undermine the world’s only Jewish nation.
How will they respond?
©2023. Matthew M. Hausman, J.D. All rights reserved.