Biden Rises to the Occasion on Israel and Hamas—Trump Sinks to a New Low

From a Washington Post editorial headlined “Biden rises to the occasion on Israel and Hamas. Trump sinks to a new low.”:

At a time when the United States, and the world, desperately need decency and moral clarity, President Biden has provided both. His words regarding the wanton atrocities Hamas has committed against hundreds of Israeli civilians, as well as many Americans and citizens of other countries, in the past week have been unequivocal. In remarks to a gathering of American Jewish leaders Wednesday, he described the mass murder as “sheer evil” and likened it to “the worst atrocities of ISIS.”

In condemning the terrorism, and offering support to Israel’s military response, the president also reminded the new emergency war government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of its responsibilities under “the law of war.” These measured statements put the United States in just the right place: supportive of Israel but positioned, if need be, to influence and temper its response.

Mr. Biden has so far met the elementary test of political leadership amid crisis, as those who placed their trust in him at the ballot box three years ago hoped he could. By no means do we intend to endorse all the steps and missteps he and his administration might have taken in the Middle East up to this point. The important thing is how the United States, in concert with allies, deals with the reality that began Saturday.

Nor do we propose to adjudicate all the inevitable controversies that have arisen over who in Hollywood or on college campuses or on the streets of Manhattan said what about Hamas’s massacre. Inevitably — and regrettably — amid many sober and sincere expressions, there were too many instances of justification or outright celebration.

What matters most is what those who exercise, or would exercise, political power say and do. It matters that they show the ability to differentiate — to treat the slaughter of these particular innocents on its own terms, without relativization, even as everyone knows and understands that it occurred within a broader context that includes Palestinian suffering, historical and contemporary.

Unreserved condemnation of Hamas’s terrorism is the price of admission to this debate — or, rather, to the morally serious part of it. In that respect, Mr. Biden’s firm words also stand in welcome contrast to the equivocations by a small number of the left-wing members of Congress in his own party, which White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre specifically repudiated.

In a reckless category of their own, however, were the comments of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump. To be sure, he labeled the Hamas attack a “disgrace” shortly after it occurred — then pivoted to blaming it on Mr. Biden’s policies. That was about par for the partisan course, alas. Yet the former president went in a bizarre new direction Wednesday by heaping scorn on Israel itself for failing to anticipate the attack and lecturing the Jewish state to “step up their game.”

He labeled the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group “very smart,” comparing it to an authoritarian he rates highly for ruling “1.4 billion people … with an iron fist”: Chinese President Xi Jinping. And he referred to Israel’s defense minister as a “jerk” for purportedly revealing weaknesses in the country’s northern defenses. To top it off, the former president said Mr. Netanyahu had “let us down” by refusing to aid the deadly strike Mr. Trump ordered against the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force on Jan. 3, 2020.

An Israeli spokesman denied the account and dismissed Mr. Trump’s comments as “shameful.” There’s a lesson here for Mr. Netanyahu, who forged a close relationship with Mr. Trump during his presidency, based on the latter’s generally uncritical support for Mr. Netanyahu. There’s a lesson, too, for the Israeli public, among whom Mr. Trump was popular while in office.

Mostly, though, it is Americans who need to take notice of these comments — especially Republicans, both voters and politicians. To their credit, some of Mr. Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination denounced his remarks. Even by his standards, they showed an extraordinary penchant for rubbing salt in the wounds of an ostensible friend and for converting an international crisis into a drama about himself. Mr. Trump’s latest outburst showed how fortunate this country is that he is not in the White House now and how unfortunate it would be if he ever returned to it.

The difficult days ahead will require rhetorical precision, empathy for victims and strategic thinking about U.S. interests. Real leaders rise to the occasion.

Members of the Editorial Board: Opinion Editor David Shipley, Deputy Opinion Editor Charles Lane and Deputy Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg, as well as writers Mary Duenwald, Shadi Hamid, David E. Hoffman, James Hohmann, Heather Long, Mili Mitra, Keith B. Richburg and Molly Roberts.

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