“I signed a picture for Bibi a long time ago—I have a bad habit of, no one ever doubts I mean what I say, sometimes I say all that I mean, though—and I signed a picture a long time for Bibi… He’s been a friend for over 30 years. I said ‘Bibi I don’t agree with a damn thing you say but I love you.'”
Joe Biden said this as Vice President during remarks to the Jewish Federations of North America in 2014, using the nickname for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He stressed that he and Netanyahu are “still buddies” (it was less than two weeks after an Obama official was famously quoted calling Netanyahu “chickenshit”), that they are “really are good friends” and even that Netanyahu is a “great, great friend”.
Biden certainly knows how to pile it on, and we should “never doubt he means what he says”.
Biden has said emphatically that he is a Zionist. “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist”, he told the Jewish Shalom TV in 2007.
And he often tells a story about when he was in Israel in 1973, some months before the October war, and met Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir. Meir was reviewing maps, and Biden was very worried about the military tensions around. “She said, ‘Senator, you look so worried’; I said, ‘Well, my God, Madame Prime Minister,’ and I turned to look at her. I said, ‘The picture you paint.’ She said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. We have’ — I thought she only said this to me. She said, ‘We have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs. You see, we have no place else to go.’”
The above is a quote from a 2015 Israeli Embassy celebration of Israeli Independence Day. Biden has been repeating it many times over the years.
Golda Meir’s intrinsic Zionist racism is obviously lost on Biden. The Jewish Israelis supposedly have no other place to go (never mind that most Jews don’t live in Israel), but the “Arabs”, they can go to any one of their many countries – and in Golda Meir’s view Palestinians just don’t exist – they’re just Arabs.
This is Biden’s positioning with Israel – it’s rather romantic, bromantic in the case of Netanyahu, and he’s utterly Zionist. It’s worth mirroring this against Bernie Sanders – Sanders also frequently tells the story of having been on a kibbutz for a few months in the 60’s, and has said that he is “100 percent pro-Israel”, yet he has called Israel’s Government “racist”, and has even been specific about Netanyahu being a “reactionary racist”. Sanders would have moved the US embassy back to Tel Aviv reversing Trump’s moving it to Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Biden, on the other hand, has been clear about not moving the embassy back, and we know from his aide’s assurances that he will not allow any “daylight” to break out in between the US and Israel.
The stars appear to have miraculously aligned for Israel, once again. Joe Biden could be a perfect fit, to try to quell the unease in the US progressive circles, not least the Jewish ones, which have been slowly making Israel a partisan issue. At least potentially, Israel could regain a “progressive” friend who is at once a “buddy” of Netanyahu. This could also be an asset in terms of the effort to delegitimize the one movement that seems to carry any possibility of changing the paradigm of Israeli impunity: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
BDS and “letting Palestinians off the hook”
Biden’s campaign “firmly rejects” BDS. In a recent virtual fundraiser hosted by Dan Shapiro, former ambassador to Israel, and Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, Biden said that BDS “singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into anti-Semitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices”. The BDS movement responded:
“By rejecting BDS, Joe Biden endorses US complicity in Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, and supports depriving Palestinians of our fundamental human rights”.
Biden’s turn of phrase “letting Palestinians off the hook” is not only chilling in itself – it is an echo of the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s famous quip, that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. This is typical Zionist disparaging arrogance: “choices” are reduced by Israel to impossibility, and when the Palestinians don’t accept it, they’re being rejectionist. The irony is that when they do accept the “peace offers,” like in the Oslo Accords, this becomes their prison. Even the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin knew and assured the Israeli parliament that Oslo would mean “less than a [Palestinian] state”.
Netanyahu worked to make sure the interim agreement would not mean a “galloping toward the ’67 borders”:
“I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the ’67 borders,” he said in a tape from 2001 that surfaced in 2010. “How do we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I’m concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone.”
Netanyahu (at that point out of office) was speaking to a family of Israeli Jewish settlers who lost family members to Palestinian attacks, and he also expressed his candid feelings about how to handle America:
“I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way.”
Joe Biden is certainly not likely to get in the way in any meaningful sense. His version of “sanctions” is really symbolic. In 2010, in a famous insult during Biden’s term as Vice President, Israel used the occasion of a Biden visit to announce an expansion of the settlement Ramat Shlomo in occupied East Jerusalem by 1,600 housing units. Biden’s response was delaying his arrival to a dinner with Netanyahu by 1-1/2 hours. Ouch – see, that’s “sanctions” for Joe Biden. You can’t get too tough on Israel, that would be veering into antisemitism because so many Jews live there.
Oh, sure – Biden will criticize, he will “oppose” some Israeli annexations. Not to the level of moving the embassy back, but he will warn of Israel making “unilateral steps” that would “undercut the prospects for peace” (as he did on that recent fundraiser call). But as to conditioning the near $4 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel over Netanyahu’s West Bank annexation plans– no, not that, that would be “irresponsible”.
Biden has had his experience of banging on the Israeli table. In 1982, he was on a Senators trip to Israel, and met with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. According to a Begin confidante, as reported by the Times of Israel, the meeting grew tense as Biden challenged Begin on settlement construction. Biden reportedly banged with his fists on the table, having suggested that such acts may undercut US aid. Begin:
“This desk is designed for writing, not for fists. Don’t threaten us with slashing aid. Do you think that because the US lends us money it is entitled to impose on us what we must do? We are grateful for the assistance we have received, but we are not to be threatened. I am a proud Jew. Three thousand years of culture are behind me, and you will not frighten me with threats.”
Two years later Biden appeared at the annual conference of Herut Zionists of America (Herut was Begin’s party and the forerunner to Likud), blamed the peace impasse on Arabs and said: “My first order of business in the new Senate will be to educate my colleagues on the financial sacrifices Israel has made as a result of Camp David.”
Biden has learned to be a good paper tiger. He knows that lip service should be paid to that “two-state solution”, because progressives like it, but there’s no real danger of it materializing. He allows for that venting, when he says that “criticism of Israel’s policy is not antisemitism”, in line with the infamous IHRA definition, but warns–
“Too often that criticism from the left morphs into antisemitism”.
How often does it do that? Oh, let’s not get too pedantic here, it’s a matter of feeling, of Zionist sensibility. Whenever there’s a feeling that the Zionist project is being questioned in some way, that’s an apparent morphing. Don’t start calling it racist, certainly not Apartheid.
Bang your fists on the table if you must, and be late to dinner – but keep loving Israel, even if it does everything wrong. Whatever you do, keep your serious disagreements in the dark, don’t allow that daylight. That’s Biden.