Joe Biden has been in mainstream Democratic politics longer than any other politician running for president, and as he said in 2014, “I have long, long ties with the American Jewish community.”
Below are excerpts of the former vice president’s remarks on Jews and Israel, emphasizing these themes: Jewish influence transformed American society for the better; American Jews need Israel in order to be safe here; and efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, or even to protest the 2014 Gaza onslaught, are anti-Semitic.
“I’m a Zionist,” Biden has said on many occasions. He has bragged about raising money from AIPAC and of knowing every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir, and dismissed the idea that Israel hurts U.S. foreign policy.
“Israel is the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East,” Biden has said. Israel is a “security necessity” for the U.S.
In the several speeches I’ve dug up, there is hardly a reference to Palestinians except as footdraggers on the peace process. Though yes, he’s all for the two-state solution.
And meantime, Biden has kisses for Benjamin Netanyahu. “Send a message to Bibi. I love him.” Even if he drives me crazy, Biden said. The love message came in 2014 a few months after the Gaza slaughter, in which Israel killed 500 children.
It will be interesting to watch how much the senior politician walks back these declarations of love and regard in coming months. Israel is clearly dividing the Democratic base, with many Dems critical of Israel. Netanyahu is openly branded a racist (by Beto O’Rourke, no less), and many Dems have shunned AIPAC. If Biden is backpedaling on Anita Hill, he may have to do the same on Netanyahu.
In 2011 Biden bragged about raising money from AIPAC, to a Jewish audience in Detroit.
I’ve attended more Jewish dinners than some of you have. I’ve raised more money from AIPAC than some of you have. I have spent more money raising money for the Federation than some of you have. You think I’m kidding, don’t you. I’m not.
(So much for those correcting Ilhan Omar, you don’t get money at AIPAC.)
Biden said he’d traveled often to Israel– “I’ve experienced the magic of Israel many, many times” — and was a Zionist from jump:
About 18, 20 years ago, I was speaking to the Zionist Organization of Baltimore. And I said, I am a Zionist, for I learned you do not have to be a Jew to be a Zionist…
[I]t was no surprise to my friends when I was elected to the Senate in a state less than 1 percent of the Jewish — less than 1 percent of the population is Jewish, that I got so deeply involved early on in the Senate with the business of Israel.
He spoke of the “demographic” threat to the Jewish state from too many Palestinians:
It is no secret that demographic realities make it increasingly difficult for Israel to remain both a Jewish homeland and a Democratic country, in the absence of a Palestinian state and an agreement.
In 2013 Biden did some Jewish pandering at a Jewish heritage event sponsored by the Democratic National Committee. Jennifer Epstein of Politico quoted him at length.
“You make up 11 percent of the seats in the United States Congress. You make up one-third of all Nobel laureates. So many notions that are embraced by this nation that particularly emanate from over 5,000 years of Jewish history, tradition and culture: independence, individualism, fairness, decency, justice, charity…
“You can’t talk about the civil rights movement in this country without talking about Jewish freedom riders… You can’t talk about the women’s movement without talking about Betty Friedan…”
Biden also cited Einstein, Carl Sagan, the Gershwins and Bob Dylan, and ascribed the acceptance of gay marriage to Jewish influence in Hollywood.
“I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense, the influence is immense. And, I might add, it is all to the good.”
He then praised the Jewish presence on the Supreme Court as essential to the expansion of rights, naming seven Jewish justices:
“You can’t talk about the recognition of … rights in the Constitution without looking at these incredible jurists that we’ve had…
“Jewish heritage has shaped who we are – all of us, us, me – as much or more than any other factor in the last 223 years. And that’s a fact.”
In that year, 2013, Biden gave a speech to the Israel lobby group AIPAC and struck many pro-Israel themes. Jews can’t be safe without Israel, the movement to delegitimize Israel is extremely concerning to him. He bragged about opposition to the Goldstone Report and said not a word about Palestinian human rights or Palestinian sovereignty except to say it was their own fault.
It was in the strongest terms that we vigorously opposed the Palestinian bid for nonmember observer status in the General Assembly, and we will continue to oppose any effort to establish a state of Palestine through unilateral actions.
His only reference to Jewish settlements was in support of them:
[T]he only country on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to vote against the establishment of a fact-finding mission on settlements was the United States of America.
The two-state solution was an afterthought to Biden; and he only had praise for Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ladies and gentlemen, Israel’s own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they’ve all called for a two-state solution and an absolute secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state. But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game.
He said Israel is vital to US Jews’ safety.
The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the ultimate guarantor, it’s the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people in the world.
And Biden said that criticism of Israel — efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state — worried him more than anything else, including Iran.
Let me tell you what worries me the most today — what worries me more than at any time in the 40 years I’ve been engaged, and it is different than any time in my career. And that is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. That is the single most dangerous, pernicious change that has taken place, in my humble opinion, since I’ve been engaged.
Biden related an oft-recounted anecdote about meeting Golda Meir in 1973 when he was 30 and a freshly-elected senator. Meir asked him if he wanted a photo-opp — surely sensitive to Biden’s political needs back home — then brought him out to the cameras and told him to smile.
She said, Senator, don’t look so sad. She said, we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world. And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something. Because you can see the pictures, I still have them — I turned to look at her. We were supposed to be looking straight ahead. And I said, Madam Prime Minister — and never turned her head, she kept looking — she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go. We have no place else to go. Ladies and gentlemen, our job is to make sure there’s always a place to go, that there’s always an Israel, that there’s always a secure Israel and there’s an Israel that can care for itself. My father was right. You are right. It’s the ultimate guarantor of never again.
A year later, 2014, Biden told a Jewish audience that it was a “security necessity” for the U.S. to support Israel.
“The security of Israel and the United States are inextricably tied, and we will never, ever, ever abandon Israel out of our own self-interest,” Biden said.
That December he also spoke to the Saban Forum at Brookings and kissed up to Democratic megadonor Haim Saban and praised Israeli leaders. Though he urged a two-state solution, and described “expanding settlement activity” as “counterproductive,” Biden made scant reference to Palestinians.
Haim, members of the Israeli Cabinet, Cabinet ministers, party leaders, old friends, members of the diplomatic corps, it’s a pleasure to look out and see so many old faces, people I’ve worked with — and I hate to admit this — for over 40 years to make good on our commitment to guarantee a secure nation-state of Israel that is secure, survivable and is — I’ve said before, if there weren’t an Israel, we’d have to invent one. If there weren’t an Israel — we always talk about Israel from this perspective as if we’re doing some favor. We are meeting a moral obligation, but it’s so much more than a moral obligation. It’s overwhelmingly in the self-interest of the United States of America to have a secure, democratic friend, a strategic partner like Israel. As I said, it’s no favor. It’s an obligation, but it’s also a strategic necessity.
Israel today is the strongest nation in the Middle East. But it bothers me sometimes — I remember when I first got here as a kid, a 29-year-old kid, Israel was very much looked upon by the rest of the world as being somewhat fragile, sitting on the banks of the Mediterranean with millions of Arabs looking at them and wanting to see them gone, et cetera.
Nothing wrong with Netanyahu:
Prime Minister Netanyahu has, as Minister Livni knows, has been my friend for over 30 years. We drive each other crazy. But he has truly been a personal friend for well over 30 years. He acknowledged this.
Biden loves Netanyahu:
I just spoke to 4,000 members of North American federation — Jewish Federation [of North America], and the [sic] Israeli Prime Minister in the front row, and I said, send a message to Bibi, I love him. I love him. And I had signed a picture years ago to him. I said, Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you have to say, but I love you. (Laughter.)
I agree with a lot he has to say. But if friends can’t acknowledge — if friends can’t acknowledge the very things that are acknowledged in each of our countries vis-à-vis one another, then it’s not much of a friendship.
Biden actually said that to Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer. “Now Ron you better damn well report to Bibi that we’re still buddies.”
Biden said efforts to delegitimize Israel are anti-Semitic, and he elided anti-Zionists and rightwing nationalists.
Anti-Semitism goes hand in hand — it’s bad under any circumstance, but now it goes hand in hand in what I would call an overall effort to delegitimize Israel — to delegitimize Israel in almost every quarter. You see it all over the world. This summer, during the conflict in Gaza, we saw too many people in too many places cross the line from legitimate criticism into demonization and outright anti-Semitism. You saw it in demonstrations that devolved into mobs that torched synagogues. You see it in menacing messages on social media. You see it in attacks on religious Jews on streets of major European cities.
It is a fundamental threat not simply to Jews, primarily — but not simply to Jews, but to legitimization of the State of Israel and to democracy itself. There can be no tolerance for anti-Semitism.
Delegitimization “worries me more than anything else,” he has said.
Biden also supported Israel’s raid on the Gaza aid ship Mavi Marmara in 2010, days after it took place, killing 9 Turks, one of them also an American citizen. “Israel” is “at war with Hamas,” he said, and “It’s legitimate for Israel to say I don’t know what’s on that ship.” He said the Obama administration was working to lift the siege of Gaza. “The one thing we have to do is not to forget the plight of these Palestinians there– not Hamas– they are in bad shape.”
Here’s Biden speaking to the Jewish Broadcasting Service in 2007, when he was last running for president. He dismisses criticism of Israel’s effect on US foreign policy, saying the Iraq war has nothing at all to do with Israel. Of course, Biden had supported that war. He also says, I’m a Zionist, and warns that pardoning Jonathan Pollard would raise the dual loyalty charge against American Zionists.
Mark Golub questions U.S. policy, saying “Many Americans tell me there’s a link between the US war in Iraq and the US relationship to Israel.” If US didn’t have such a commitment to Israel, there wouldn’t be a problem in Iraq. Biden dismisses that idea.
It’s bizarre. Let me point out to you, when the Baker commission filed its report [in 2006] saying peace in Israel is related to Iraq, you may remember I was the first and only one in Congress to point out, if tomorrow peace broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, does anyone think there wouldn’t be a full blown war in Iraq? And conversely, if tomorrow peace broke out between Israel and the Palestinians does anyone think there wouldn’t be a full blown war in Iraq. Conversely, if Iraq were transported to Mars, does anyone think that there wouldn’t be the terrorism visited on Israelis every day.
The difference between now and before 9/11, many Americans can taste what it must feel like for every Israeli mother and father, when they send their kid out to school with their lunch and they put them, on a bus, on a bicycle, walking, they pray to god that the cellphone doesn’t ring. Every day. Every day. And so let’s get it straight. Israel is not the cause of Iraq. Iraq being settled or not settled has nothing to do with Israel’s conduct.
The second part is, people should understand by now, this should be crystal clear, that Israel is the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East. I always say to my friends when they say those things to you. Imagine our circumstance in the world were there no Israel. How many battleships would there be? How many troops would be stationed. So I find it not only incorrect but sometimes mildly insulting.
He said his father loved Israel and was baffled by anti-Zionists (clearly referencing Jewish anti-Zionists).
I was raised by what you would call a righteous Christian… My father was… a student of history and a devoted, devoted supporter of Israel. My father always resented the fact that anyone particularly if you were a Jew who supported Israel from back in ’48 when the debates were going on in the Jewish community here in the Untied States, he could not understand how people could assume that because people understood that without an Israel, no Jew in the world was safe, he didn’t understand how that support could be translated into somehow being un-American.
Biden mentioned that his son married into a prominent Jewish family in Delaware, the Bergers. Then the future veep told of attending a seder in ’73 after his visit to Israel and meeting with Golda Meir.
I had predicted that something was going on in Egypt. I remember the poignancy… We began the meal with people talking about What it meant to them if Israel were actually, actually defeated. And there is this inextricable tie between culture, religion, ethnicity that most people don’t fully understand, that is unique and how can I say it, so strong, with Jews worldwide. There is a– I used to say early on when I was a kid, when I was a young senator, I would say, If I were a Jew, I would be a Zionist. I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist. That’s the sense, the sense of vulnerability which worries me.
Thanks to Allison Deger.