Joe Biden has been stumbling since Senator Kamala Harris upbraided him at the debate June 27 for expressing nostalgia for the “civility” he had in the 1970s with segregationist southern senators whom he was able to work with despite political differences. Biden has now apologized for the comment.
It must be noted that Biden has many times expressed far greater warmth toward Israeli racist politicians, and not been called out: former prime minister Golda Meir, who said that Palestinians don’t exist, and who reportedly said, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us”; and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who rallied supporters by saying that Arabs were coming to the polls “in droves” in 2015 and who this year “built his re-election campaign on racism [and] fearmongering” (according to the pro-Israel group J Street).
Both Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders have denounced Netanyahu as a racist.
Harris has been strongly supportive of Israel and she has gotten along fine with Netanyahu. The prime minister says they’ve discussed partnering in many ways. She has lately praised Israel’s human rights record, despite the fact that Netanyahu championed the law that declares Israel to be the “nation state of the Jewish people,” says Palestinians do not have a right to self-determination, and says Jewish land claims are superior to Palestinian ones, and Arabic has lower status than Hebrew.
Biden and Harris surely represent the traditional solid support of Democratic Party leaders for Israel’s rightwing leaders.
“Send a message to Bibi, I love him!” Biden told a Jewish group in 2014. He extolled his friendship with Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Netanyahu 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…. 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.
Harris has kept right up with Biden by giving speeches at the rightwing Israel lobby group AIPAC, and bragging that she raised money for Israel as a girl. In one of those speeches she linked her support for Israel to the U.S. civil rights struggle and the famous attack on civil rights marchers in Selma in 1965. She said of her feelings for Israel,
it’s almost like saying when did you first realize you loved your family, or love your country, it just was always there.
If Biden’s forgiving attitude toward the southern senators he worked with in the 70’s is a problem, his fondness for the late Golda Meir ought to be a liability too. He has often related an anecdote about Meir during his visit to Israel in 1973 when he was 30 and a freshly-elected senator (surely a political necessity for fundraising purposes). He met Meir at her office and she explained that Israel’s secret weapon is that Jews have nowhere to go. Biden has told the story to Jewish audiences with Golda Meir as a hero.
History books are very clear that Meir was intolerant of Palestinians in terms that surely exceeded those southern senators. Meir denied their very existence, as quoted by Avi Shlaim in The Iron Wall.
“It is not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
These assertions are factually inaccurate not to say demeaning. Palestinian historians have shown that Palestinian identity arose around the turn of the last century, under Ottoman rule.
Meir regarded Arabs as implacable enemies. “She could not come to terms with the thought that maybe the Arabs felt than an injustice had been committed against them,” her own biographer wrote (per Shlaim). “She also rejected absolutely the possibility that some of the Arab demands might be justified. She refused to recognize that the Arabs felt humiliated.” Meir’s response to the ’67 war, when Israel took territory containing more than 1 million Palestinians, was that the Palestinians should end up with Jordanian citizenship, so as not to threaten Israel’s Jewish majority.
She was enraged by the emergence of dovish critics of the occupation, including Amos Oz and Yizhar Smilansky (Benny Morris relates in Righteous Victims). Jews have the “supreme morality,” she contended.
Meir’s most famous formulation was: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” That is a quotation from her oral autobiography, as edited by her close friend Marie Syrkin. Meir reportedly made the statement in different forms. She was even blunter in an Anti-Defamation League advertisement that ran in the Hollywood Reporter, as quoted by Ali Abunimah:
We can forgive [them] for killing our children. We cannot forgive them from forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with [them] when they love their children more than they hate us.
(One scholar has said that the quotes are impossible to verify in a primary source. But one did appear in a biography prepared by her close friend, and the ideas are surely consistent with Meir’s anti-Palestinian racism.)
I don’t expect Biden to apologize for his love for Netanyahu and his fondness for Golda Meir. Both those Israeli politicians are popular among many big donors to the Democratic Party. But who knows– maybe a progressive opponent in the presidential race will bring that racism up and follow Harris’s path to glory. Well, for some Democratic voters, it’s glory…