At Debate, Biden and Trump Jockey for Biggest Supporter of Israel  

US foreign policy toward the Middle East did not feature prominently in last Thursday’s debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, and there were few surprises in what they discussed.

Regarding Israel’s war on Gaza, President Biden highlighted his support for the ceasefire proposal he made on May 31 that has stalled in recent weeks. Biden noted that his administration is pushing Hamas to accept the deal and accused the group of being the only party that wants war to continue, despite being “greatly weakened.” Biden reiterated his ardent support for Israel, saying that he has provided the state with “all the weapons they need” and that his administration saved Israel from Iran following the latter’s April attack. Biden then curiously suggested that he was the only US president this decade to have no US troops “dying anywhere in the world.” While his meaning was unclear, three US soldiers were killed in a drone attack on a base in Jordan just months ago.

For all the criticism that Biden has received on his Middle East policy, Trump had relatively little to say about the region. Notably, Trump rejected Biden’s claim that Hamas is the only side that wants the war in Gaza to continue, saying that Israel “wants to keep going” and that Biden should “let them finish the job.” Asked whether he would support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Trump dodged the question and said he would have to see a specific plan first. Trump shifted the focus to Iran, which he said “was broke” and had no money to support Hamas, Hezbollah, or other regional proxies during his presidency.

The debate was a disappointing performance by both men, as neither offered much in the way of substantive foreign policy solutions. One of the more memorable moments was Trump’s offhanded comment that Biden has become like “a very bad Palestinian,” a slur against which Biden did not push back.

Also Happening in Washington Last Week…

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Passes Appropriations Bills. On June 28, the House passed the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) Appropriations Bill for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related programs. Amendments include language prohibiting the Department of State from citing statistics from the Gaza Health Ministry; funds for the humanitarian pier in Gaza; and funding to enforce Biden’s February 2024 National Security Memorandum 20 on arms transfers accountability. On the same day, the House also passed the FY25 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, which, in a June 24 statement, the White House declared it would veto because of the legislation’s “deep cuts” to social programs and its anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

House Resolution Condemns Israel’s Addition to Child’s Rights Abusers List. On June 26, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) introduced H.Res.1323, which rejects the United Nations’ June 7  decision to add the Israel Defense Force to a list of countries committing abuses against children during conflict.

House Resolution Condemns RSF Atrocities. On June 27, Rep. John James (R-MI) introduced H.Res.1328, which condemns atrocities being committed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias against the Masalit people and other non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur, and condemns the RSF and Sudanese Armed Forces for “perpetrating atrocities, humanitarian catastrophe, and the destruction of Sudan.” The resolution calls for an immediate end to the war in Sudan and urges the US government to protect Sudanese civilians, support efforts to document genocidal acts and other war crimes, and improve the delivery of lifesaving aid.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Jamaal Bowman Loses Democratic Primary. On June 25, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) lost the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th congressional district to George Latimer. The race between Bowman and Latimer gained national attention, as Israel-Palestine issues featured prominently and it became the most expensive House primary ever.  Groups such as AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel spent more than $20 million to defeat Bowman, a progressive who is a vocal critic of Israel.

HFAC Chair Meets with Israeli Defense Minister. On June 25, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss US support for Israel and regional security issues.

House Democrats Write to Biden to Include Hamas on Fact Sheet on Sexual Violence. On June 26, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Dan Goldman (D-NY) sent a letter to President Biden requesting that the administration include Hamas in a recent White House fact sheet on conflict-related sexual violence. The lawmakers criticized the omission of Hamas from the document, which discussed atrocities against women in Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and other countries.

House Armed Services Chair Demands End to Humanitarian Pier. On June 26, House Armed Services Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-AL) sent a letter to President Biden demanding that the administration shut down the humanitarian pier in Gaza. Rogers wrote, “I urge the Administration to immediately cease this failed operation before further catastrophe occurs and consider alternative means of land and air-based humanitarian aid delivery.”

3) Hearings and Briefings

House Continues Probe into Campus Protests. On June 26, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a subcommittee hearing on pro-Palestine campus protests in the United States and their effect on Jewish faculty.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

National Security Advisor to VP Travels to Israel and West Bank. From June 23-25, National Security Advisor to the Vice President Phil Gordon traveled to Israel to meet with senior Israeli officials. According to the White House, Gordon reiterated US support for a ceasefire, stressed the urgency of improving humanitarian conditions in Gaza, and discussed de-escalation along the Israel-Lebanon border. Gordon traveled on June 25 to Ramallah, where he met with Palestinian Authority officials to discuss its “continued reforms” and West Bank security.

Jake Sullivan Meets with Israeli Defense Minister. On June 26, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Defense Minister Gallant to discuss ceasefire efforts, US “ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” de-escalating tensions with Hezbollah, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and security concerns in the West Bank.

2) Department of State

Blinken Speaks with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister. On June 21, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Ali al-Yahya. They discussed ceasefire efforts in Gaza and bilateral cooperation in the region. The secretary thanked the foreign minister for Kuwait’s role in bringing humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

Blinken Meets with Israeli Defense Minister Gallant. On June 24, Secretary Blinken met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss efforts to achieve a ceasefire, challenges facing the distribution of humanitarian aid, and plans for a post-conflict period in Gaza. The officials also discussed the escalating tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border as Blinken reaffirmed US commitment to Israel’s security.

Department Welcomes Announcement of Parliamentary Elections in Iraqi Kurdistan Region. On June 26, Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller commented that the Department of State welcomes the announcement that parliamentary elections will be held in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in October.

Blinken Meets with UN Humanitarian Official. On June 27, Secretary Blinken met with Sigrid Kaag, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance for Gaza. Speaking at a joint press availability, Blinken said that the Biden administration is actively working to improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Gaza. The secretary also cited ongoing security concerns and said that Israel has committed to “address some of the needs that the United Nations in particular has to make sure that it can effectively and more safely deliver assistance.”

Sanctions Announced Targeting Iran Nuclear Program. On June 27, the Department of State imposed sanctions impacting Iran’s nuclear program. The sanctions target three entities and 11 vessels involved in the Iranian petroleum and petrochemical trade.

Deputy Secretary Meets with Saudi Officials. On June 27, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met with Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah al-Swaha. According to a State readout, the officials discussed US-Saudi bilateral economic relations and cooperation in science and technology.

3) Department of Defense

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Warns that Israeli Invasion of Lebanon Could Threaten US Troops. Speaking during a meeting of African defense ministers in Botswana on June 23, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. CQ Brown commented that an Israeli invasion of Lebanon could lead to increased involvement from Iran and potentially threaten US forces in the region.

Secretary Austin Meets with Israeli Defense Minister Gallant. On June 25, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Israeli Defense Minister Gallant. According to the Department of Defense readout, the officials discussed efforts to de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border, the protection of Palestinian civilians, aid distribution in Gaza, and US-Israeli cooperation against Iran. At a joint press availability with Gallant, Austin reiterated US support for Israel but noted that a “war between Israel and Hezbollah could easily become a regional war with terrible consequences for the Middle East, and so diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation.” Austin also expressed concerns about attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank by violent Israeli extremists and urged Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Sanctions Iran’s International Shadow Banking Network. On June 25, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned some 50 entities and individuals belonging to Iran’s “shadow banking” network.

5) United States Agency for International Development

USAID Announced $38 Million for Sudan. On June 24, USAID announced $38 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Sudan, including $23 for UNICEF aid to children there.

Administrator Power Meets with Israeli Officials. On June 25, Administrator Samantha Power met with the head of Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major General Ghassan Alyan. They discussed efforts to increase aid into Gaza, protection of civilians and aid workers, and aid distribution challenges such as the current backlog of humanitarian assistance at Kerem Shalom, which State Spokesperson Miller attributed on June 25 to “random looting and criminal gangs and criminal actors who have been attacking trucks.”