Why Won’t Biden Wave the Magic Wand in His Hand to Stop Israel?

If stopping genocide is not a good enough reason for Biden to rein in Israel’s blood thirst, is losing the 2024 election a risk he’s willing to take?

5 mins read
Israeli security forces investigate the scene after a shooting attack at a bus stop near the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Malakhi, on Feb. 16, 2024. (Ilan Assayag/JINI via Xinhua)

As Israel’s war on Gaza continues unabated, the United States, which holds great leverage over Israel’s conduct, is seemingly helpless in stopping the genocide of Palestinians from being carried out with U.S.-taxpayer-provided weapons. This prompts two critical questions: First, how far does Israel need to go in order to face tangible consequences in terms of the military aid it receives? And second, how much political power is President Joe Biden willing to lose over the need to maintain Israel’s blood thirst?

So far, Biden is trying to have it both ways in appearing tough: scold Israel verbally while keeping intact the lifeline of U.S. military aid. As far back as December 2023, when Gaza’s death toll just surpassed 18,000, the President sparked headlines such as, “Biden is talking tougher about Israel, but continues to aid its war effort. ” At that time, a senior administration official told NBC News, “There’s a full expectation that what was provided to [Israel] will be used appropriately in accordance with the law of armed conflict, but we’re not at this time putting any additional strings on the assistance that we’re providing.” The implication was that if Israel further abused the military aid it receives, it would face the levers of U.S. power. 

Two months later, the death toll rose past 28,000—that’s 10,000 higher than in mid-December. And still, the Biden administration did not feel the need to rein in Israel. In a heated press briefing , U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller faced hard questions from journalists about the leverage that Biden enjoys but has refused to use. Miller lamented that “sometimes people pretend that the United States of America has a magic wand that it can wave to make any situation in the world roll out in exactly the way that we would want it to.” 

One of the journalists at the briefing rightly countered, “The fact is that you do have a magic wand. You have a huge, big magic wand… It’s real, it’s substantive.” But Miller repeatedly claimed he could not divulge internal discussions, saying, “I am not going to get into the private conversations that we have with the [g]overnment of Israel, but they are quite clear about our positions on these matters.” 

It is as though the U.S. is a strict parent whose favorite child, Israel, can do no wrong. And when it does, the parent wags its finger with a wink and a nod. “We are happy with some of the deconfliction measures that Israel has put in place at our urging,” said Miller . He then added, “Those deconfliction measures have not been as successful as we would like them to be.”

The magic wand that the U.S. can wave at any time is worth nearly $4 billion a year . Instead of actually threatening to withhold that aid and then carrying out the threat, Biden has tiptoed around Israel’s shameful conduct—one that a majority of Americans disapprove of. 

Pathetically, Biden appears to be trying to give himself permission to act, issuing a bizarre National Security Memorandum on February 8 that asserted military aid is a “critical tool for advancing United States foreign policy and national security objectives” to, among other things, “prevent arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.” According to the BBC, the move was Biden’s response to internal pressure from his Democratic colleagues to use the magic wand in his hand. But the memorandum gives aid recipients 45 days to offer “assurances” that the aid is not being misused. That’s at least another month and a half for Israel to continue killing Palestinians with no consequence.

There are already guidelines in place to determine how the U.S. should act when its military aid is used to fuel mass killing. Last August, months before Israel’s latest war began, Biden’s State Department even issued a laudable-sounding “Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance ” to those nations receiving U.S. military aid. The Washington Post referred to this as, “the first formal system for monitoring and potentially penalizing reported abuses involving foreign forces and U.S.-origin arms.” What better test of this formal system than Israel’s abuse of U.S. military aid? 

When asked about the guidance, State Department’s Miller sidestepped the question once again, like a helpless parent watching their child commit serial murder. He said , “That process is not intended to function as a rapid response mechanism.” Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned from his post in protest of the U.S. enabling Israeli massacres of Palestinians, told NPR, “The time for action is now. It is not in six months or a year from now when we are looking at a new tranche of requests from Israel.”

There is no question that U.S.-supplied weapons are being used to kill Palestinians. Amnesty International’s December 2023 report found fragments of U.S.-made bombs in the rubble of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israel. The organization found that the strikes were aimed at a region Israel had ordered Palestinian civilians to flee to, and that there was no warning before the deadly bombs dropped. In fact, Amnesty implied the strikes might be considered “war crimes.” If the International Court of Justice formally charges Israel with genocide, it could implicate the U.S. 

Cutting off military aid to Israel isn’t just about reducing U.S. responsibility for Palestinian genocide—a moral position that, on its own is worth taking. It could actually have an impact on Israel’s actions given that a majority of its weapons comes from the U.S. Further, several governments are actively considering cutting off aid to Israel, and Italy and Spain have already done so, showing that swift action is indeed possible.

Rather than hiding behind “private conversations,” claims of “deconfliction measures” that have not worked, or issuing memoranda, Biden could actively use his power to withhold U.S. taxpayer-funded weapons from Israel. With 28,000 deaths and counting, how many dead Palestinians would it take to spark U.S. action? 

So far, the answer appears to be that even the complete annihilation of the Palestinian people and their land would be perfectly acceptable to Biden, a President who is certainly not acting as though he is running for reelection in the face of deep public disapproval over his refusal to use the magic wand in his hand. 

Voters have been using every means at their disposal to express displeasure at Biden’s enabling of Palestinian genocide, from mass street protests to a hunger strike by federal workers. Biden has faced relentless interruptions of his campaign events. The Washington Post pointed out that, “From holiday events to memorial services, demonstrators now show up at almost all Biden appearances.” Even the president’s new election campaign account on TikTok, intended to reach younger voters, has been bombarded by vocal protests. 

The small measure of goodwill that Biden earned during his first term from skeptical Americans has been all but lost . A spokesperson for Justice Democrats told the Guardian that “without question, he has erased much of that progress with his continued support for a genocide that’s happening at the hands of a far-right Israeli government.”

A powerful person may refuse to exercise their power even in the face of a genocide and relentless public pressure. But, would a dying man refuse to wave the magic wand in his hand even to save his own (political) life? That’s the choice Biden faces now: his reelection or Israel’s right to continue genocide.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Sonali Kolhatkar

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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