How do we judge if someone — especially a politician — is a friend of Israel?
Putting aside the political exclamations, a key component is the actual support for Israel, beyond just words. After all, Nixon — who is recognized as having been an antisemite — nevertheless came to Israel’s aid during the Yom Kippur War. He is arguably the US president who first articulated the policy of seeing Israel as a key ally in the Middle East, a policy that continues till today.
Nixon wasn’t particularly friendly to Jews, but he was a friend of Israel.
Compare him with Donald Trump, whom Democrats accuse of trafficking in antisemitic tropes.
Better yet, compare Nixon to Joe Biden.
|Joe Biden. Public Domain|
Is there any politician, especially among the Democrats in the running for their party’s presidential nomination, who is more highly regarded as a friend of Israel than Joe Biden?
In his list of 5 Jewish things to know about Joe Biden, Ron Kampeas points out:
- Biden’s ties to the Jewish state go back almost 50 years, to his visit to Israel on the eve of the Yom Kippur War
- Biden has personally known every Prime Minister since Golda Meir
- Biden talks about his large collection of yarmulkes he has accumulated from attending Jewish functions over the years
- One of Biden’s favorite anecdotes retells his conversation with Golda Meir, where she confided in him “We have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs. You see, we have no place else to go.”
- Biden’s friendliness comes in spite of the fact that his state, Delaware, has a Jewish population of only 15,000.
But while he has been friendly with members of the Israeli government, has Biden been supportive of the Israeli government?
From the start, we understand that this is not an issue of backing every decision Israel has made or every action it has taken — but has Biden consistently supported Israel?
For example, in June 1982, upon his return from the US, Menachem Begin gave a press conference on his experience there. He recounted that when he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
a young senator rose and delivered a very impassioned speech – I must say that it’s been a while since I’ve heard such a talented speaker – and he actually supported Operation “Peace for the Galilee” [The Lebanon War]. He even went further, and said that if someone from Canada were to infiltrate into the United States, and kill its citizens all of us (and thus he indicated a circle) would demand attacking them, and we wouldn’t pay attention as to whether men, women or children were killed. That’s what he said.
Begin distanced himself on the spot from what were ostensibly supportive remarks, noting that “according to our values, it is forbidden to hurt women and children, even in war…We did not want to hurt civilians under any circumstances…we never approved a plan knowing that civilians would be hurt directly or on purpose. Unintentionally, that can happen. It must not be denied.”
We know that “young senator” was Joe Biden because Begin went on to recount the famous clash between the two that immediately followed. After overplaying his hand in what was supposed to be a supportive comment, Biden went beyond criticizing Israel. He not only voiced his opposition to the Israeli settlements (a criticism which Begin did not begrudge him), but went on to suggest that he would propose cutting financial aid to Israel because of them. Begin’s rebuke of Biden is famous:
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. Take note: we do not want a single soldier of yours to die for us.
The account, identifying Biden, was carried both by the New York Times and Time Magazine.
Biden’s first comment was an attempt to be ‘friendly.’
Biden’s second comment, however, was not the type made by a friend.
Kampeas notes that similarly, Biden made 2 different kinds of statements depending on whether speaking to AIPAC or J Street.
During his speech at AIPAC in 2013, Biden stressed that Netanyahu wanted peace, and the Arabs needed to step up. In fact, if you read the actual speech, Biden — who once threatened Begin he would cut off aid on account of the settlements — not only mentions the settlements, but goes so far as to brag:
As recently as last year, the only country on the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against — I think it’s 36 countries, don’t hold me to the exact number — but the 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. [emphasis added]
Not really.When speaking before a J Street crowd in 2016, the day after the bus bombing that wounded 21 Israelis and following months of stabbing attacks, Biden felt perfectly comfortable telling the crowd that in fact, the settlements prove that Netanyahu is taking Israel in the “wrong direction”:
“I firmly believe that the actions that Israel’s government has taken over the past several years — the steady and systematic expansion of settlements, the legalization of outposts, land seizures — they’re moving us and, more importantly, they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction,” he said.
At AIPAC he proudly claimed that the US is the sole defender of Israel’s settlement policy, but at J Street Biden turns around and condemns Israel over that very same policy.
There is nothing wrong with Biden criticizing Israel over the settlements.
- But it was presumptuous of him to publicly threaten the leader of a sovereign country.
- As a “friend” of Israel, Biden should be consistent in his position and not flip-flop in order to curry favor with the current crowd he is speaking to. US policy has been to refrain from approving of the settlements.
- Furthermore, Biden – as a friend of Israel – should not be going around exaggerating the “systematic expansion” of the settlements. In 2012, Peace Now noted on their website For the First Time Since 1990 – the Government is to Approve the Establishment of New Settlements. That number of settlements was 3. If Biden wants to criticize Israel, at the very least he should have gotten his facts straight.
In the absence of an Israeli leader like Menachem Begin, Biden feels free to openly speak of what Israel must do, ignoring the changing Israeli electorate that even 3 years ago was showing signs of moving to the right and an unwillingness to unilaterally make concessions to a non-existent peace partner.
Yet, during a conference call with members of the Jewish media in 2008, 2 months before the presidential election, Biden sang a different tune, saying it was up to the Israelis to make decisions about war and peace, especially the question of whether to launch a strike aimed at disrupting Iran’s nuclear program.
“This is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do,” said the Democratic vice presidential candidate. ”I have faith in the democracy of Israel. They will arrive at the right decision that they view as being in their own interests.”
That is a far cry from what Biden told that J Street crowd, where he went so far as to claim
We have an overwhelming obligation — notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government — we have an obligation to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only solution: a two-state solution.
Which of these two stands will Biden adopt during the months leading up to next years election?
More importantly, which of these 2 stands would Biden adopt if he should be elected president?
Gaffes Or Errors of Fact?
Some of Biden’s statements over the years have been problematic, where he has made a gaffe — for instance, when Biden confused Prime Minister May and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
There are statements Biden has made in connection with Israel too which are either gaffes or errors of fact.
I’ve spent 35 years of my career dealing with issues relating to Israel. My support for Israel begins in my stomach, goes to my heart and ends up in my head.”
Part of Biden’s claim as a “friend of Israel” is that he knows Israel so well, so let’s just skip the first 2 parts and see what’s there.
Back in 2011, Biden took credit for preventing the release of Jonathan Pollard:
President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life. [emphasis added]
One question is whether his claim was accurate, or whether Biden was trying to protect Obama from the ire of the rabbis.
Giving Obama Credit For Bush’s Agreement
Another example of Biden’s misstatement of fact is when he told AIPAC in 2013:
President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel — the most in history.
According to FactCheck.org — Biden was wrong on 2 counts.
At the time, the actual record was held by the Clinton administration, which in 2000 gave Israel $3.12 billion “which is not only slightly more in nominal dollars but much more in inflation-adjusted dollars”
More to the point, Biden was crediting Obama for something that Bush had done:
Biden is also taking credit for a level of spending that was set by the Bush administration as part of a 10-year, $30 billion agreement reached with Israel in 2007. In requesting $3.1 billion in his fiscal 2013 budget last February, Obama was honoring that agreement.
Hamas and Hezbollah
Here’s another double error made by Biden during his 2008 debate with Palin where he was supposed to show his obvious superior knowledge of foreign affairs:
Here’s what the president [Bush] said when we said no. He insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said, and others said, and Barack Obama said, “Big mistake. Hamas will win. You’ll legitimize them.” What happened? Hamas won.
When we kicked — along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know — if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.”
Now what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.
First, as Israel Medad points out in his blog My Right Word — Biden confused the West Bank and Gaza:
Another absurdly wrong statement from Joe “Foreign Policy Expert” Biden, who very obviously does not know the difference between the Gaza Strip [where Hamas rules] and the West Bank [where the PA rules]
But Biden didn’t get Hezbollah quite right either —
- First, the US did not kick Hezbollah out of Lebanon.
- Second, if Hezbollah was kicked out, how would it be able to fill that vacuum Biden warns about?
Here’s another one – in 2010, Biden lectured Israel on the demographic realities
The demographic realities make it difficult for Israel to be a Jewish homeland and a democratic country. The status quo is not sustainable.
Biden claims that the larger birthrate of the Arabs as opposed to the Jews, is a potent argument for Israel to “make peace” — i.e., retreat from the “West Bank” as soon as possible.
The problem is that the demographic argument just does not hold water. For example, an op-ed in Haaretz from 2009, the previous year, notes how easy it is to exploit demographics and the fears generated by it to further an agenda and justify or attack policies in Israel.
In 2001, there were around 95,000 Jewish births in Israel and 41,000 Arab births. Just seven years later, in 2008, Jewish births had risen to over 117,000, but Arab births had declined to less than 40,000. In a period that constitutes barely a quarter of a generation, Arab births had fallen from around 30 percent of the total to around 25 percent. This has been a steady trend and, should it continue, it will only be a very short time before Jewish and Arab births each year are broadly proportionate to the overall balance of Jews and Arabs in the population as whole – that is, 4:1, or 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
But the problem with Joe Biden goes beyond his misstatements and insistence he knows better than Israel what is best for it.
The issue is not that Biden does not support Israeli policy, but rather the kinds of actions Biden has actively taken that are directly against Israeli interests
Does Joe Biden Really Support Putting The Western Wall Under Palestinian Control?
Biden took an active part in US support for the UN vote on Resolution 2334, which was passed at the end of Obama’s term in office thanks to the US abstention. That resolution did more than just condemn Israeli settlements.
According to Tablet Magazine, Biden was actively involved in pushing the UN vote condemning settlements
A wealth of evidence is now emerging that, far from simply abstaining from a UN vote, which is how the Administration and its press circle at first sought to characterize its actions, the anti-Israel resolution was actively vetted at the highest levels of the U.S. Administration, which then led a pressure campaign—both directly and through Great Britain—to convince other countries to vote in favor of it.
Tablet has confirmed that one tangible consequence of the high-level U.S. campaign was a phone call from Vice President Joseph Biden to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, which succeeded in changing Ukraine’s vote from an expected abstention to a “yes.” According to one U.S. national security source, the Obama Administration needed a 14-0 vote to justify what the source called “the optics” of its own abstention.
Among its many “biased and false” clauses, he recalled, the resolution designated Israel’s presence in parts of Jerusalem liberated in 1967 as a flagrant violation under international law. That included Jerusalem’s Old City and Jewish Quarter, as well as the Western Wall, the last remnant of the temple first built by King Solomon some 3,000 years ago
A pity that in this case, Biden went along instead of telling Obama “over my dead body.” But the question is whether Biden has actually thought through the ramifications of his position on the settlements.
Biden Opposed Sanctions on Iran Even Before Becoming Obama’s Running Mate
On the issue of Iran, Biden already voted against pressuring them back in 2007, before being nominated as Obama’s running mate:
The Senate approved a resolution on Wednesday urging the Bush administration to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, and lawmakers briefly set aside partisan differences to approve a measure calling for stepped-up diplomacy to forge a political solution in Iraq.
Also called for economic sanctions.
Among those voting against it was Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who said he feared that the administration could use the measure to justify military action against Iran.
It would be a good idea to hear Biden articulate just what he would be prepared to do to counteract Iran’s support of global terrorism in general and support of Hezbollah and Hamas in particular.
Biden vs. AIPAC?
AIPAC does not speak for the entire American Jewish community. There’s other organizations as strong and as consequential.
What other organizations?
Was he referring to J Street — which had only just been founded the year before?
Biden also claimed that despite any occasional claims to the contrary, AIPAC does not speak for Israel. He did not elaborate on that one.
In any case, Biden and AIPAC patched things up, but it is obvious that it is J Street and not AIPAC that he is listening to.
Biden & Sharpton
|Sharpton and Biden. Screengrab from Facebook|
It was in part as a result of his many visits to Obama at the White House that Sharpton’s image was rehabilitated, and Biden is far from being the only one of the Democratic candidates to seek Sharpton’s endorsement.
But this serves as a reminder that Biden’s claim to friendship with Israel does not outweigh certain political considerations.
That is not to say that none of the other Democratic candidates might try the same thing, but Biden has the reputation of being a “friend” of Israel that would shield him from a lot of the resultant criticism.
It is the fact that so many seem to buy into Biden’s “friend of Israel” shtick that can be so disconcerting.