Joe Biden and Israel: it’s in his kishkes

Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference during Biden's visit to Israel, March 9, 2016 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

There are so many reasons why I voted for Joe Biden in this year’s presidential election. His steadfast support for Israel and the unique U.S.-Israel relationship is near the top of the list. 

As a young child growing up in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Biden learned the importance of the phrase “Never Again” and why a Jewish state needed to come into being from his Irish Catholic father. Throughout his time in office as a United States Senator from Delaware, eight years as vice president, and as a candidate for president in 2020, Biden’s commitment to Israel’s prosperity, security, and flourishing has never wavered.

At nearly any speech to pro-Israel groups and supporters, Biden tells the well-known story of visiting Israel in 1973, just before the Yom Kippur War. It was on this trip that recently-sworn in Senator Biden met then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin, the ambassador to the United States and former IDF Chief of Staff. Biden, concerned by the region’s tenuous security situation, told Meir he was worried for the young Jewish state. It was then that Meir is said to have replied: “Oh, don’t worry. We have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs. You see, we have no place else to go.” The encounter certainly left a life-long impression. 

The pro-Israel right likes to point to a heated 1982 meeting at the Capitol between then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a group of senators, including Biden, as some kind of “proof” that Biden is not a supporter of the Jewish state. Here are the facts. At the meeting, senators clashed with Begin over the situation in Lebanon following an Israeli invasion intended to counter Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank. Biden banged on a table and said new settlement building could dampen American support for security assistance to Israel. However, he did not threaten to end U.S. aid as some have falsely claimed; he simply mentioned an area of disagreement presidential administrations and members of Congress from both parties have had with various Israeli governing coalitions for decades.

Disagreements with the right over West Bank settlements did not prevent Biden from speaking at the 1985 Herut Zionists of America annual conference (Herut was the name of the original Revisionist Zionist party founded by Begin, which later merged with other parties to form the Likud in the early 1970s). According to JTA, it was there that Biden, then one of the highest-ranking Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that much of U.S. government policy in the Middle East was based on “three myths,” namely “the belief that Saudi Arabia can be a broker for peace, the belief that King Hussein is ready to negotiate peace, and the belief that the Palestine Liberation Organization can deliver a consensus for peace.” 

Biden told convention attendees “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.” Would someone who did not support Israel place the blame on a lack of movement in Arab-Israeli peace in the years following the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty only on the Arab states and PLO? No.

During his Senate career, Biden opposed selling advanced weaponry to other states in the region out of fear it could endanger Israel’s security. A longtime supporter of American security aid to the Jewish state, Biden has often remarked it is “the best $3 billion investment we can make” in the Middle East and was instrumental in increasing aid in the 1980s. Biden supported Israel’s peace-making efforts in the 1990s and also resolutely defended Israel’s right to defend itself from terror during the same period and the years of the Second Intifada. In 2006, Biden worked with Republican Senator Mitch McConnell to introduce and pass the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act. 

During a 2008 interview with ShalomTV, Biden remarked “Israel is the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East,” and proudly declared “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” As Vice President, he continued to strengthen his pro-Israel bona fides.

Biden was a leading proponent of American support for defensive technologies like Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow 3, which have saved thousands of lives and greatly contributed to Israel’s security. During Israel’s 2014 conflict with Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip, Biden helped lead efforts with Congress to pass an emergency appropriations bill to resupply Iron Dome defensive missiles. He stood up for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship on the international stage and opposed BDS and efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Towards the end of the Obama Administration, the Vice President played a key role in developing the 2016 ten-year Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel, an unprecedented and historic agreement totaling $38 billion in security assistance to the Jewish state. 

While it is no secret that relations between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were tense (to put it mildly), Biden has enjoyed a close personal friendship with Bibi since the latter’s time as the number two at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in the early 1980s. Biden once signed a photograph of himself and Netanyahu with “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you had to say, but I love you.” At a March 2016 press conference during a visit to Israel, Netanyahu told Biden “You’re part of our mishpucha… I want to thank you personally for your, for our personal friendship of over thirty years.” 

A senior AIPAC source told Al-Monitor this about Biden in August: “His record is not good or satisfactory. It’s perfect. You could not find a single significant vote at which he did not deliver and prove his commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity.”

A Biden Administration and the current Israeli government will not agree on every issue. Biden opposes settlement building in the West Bank and has called for the United States to rejoin the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) if the Islamic Republic returns to compliance with the terms of the deal, two areas of likely contention. However, as Biden senior foreign policy advisor and former diplomat Anthony Blinken told the Democratic Majority for Israel group (as reported by JewishInsider), “Joe Biden believes strongly in keeping your differences– to the greatest extent possible– between friends behind doors.” When some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates called for conditioning American security assistance to Israel due to disagreements over West Bank settlements, Biden called the idea “absolutely outrageous” and said that would be a “gigantic mistake.” 

Biden has said he would keep the American embassy in Jerusalem. He has praised the recent normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan and called for more Arab and Muslim states to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Biden has pledged to never let Iran acquire nuclear weapons and has vowed to take action to counter Iran’s other destabilizing activities across the region. 

On the Palestinian front, Biden has called for a resumption of American humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people and a renewal of financial support to the Palestinian Authority so long as it is consistent with the Taylor Force Act. He has strongly condemned antisemitic incitement and support for terror attacks against Israelis by the PA and opposed Palestinian efforts to bypass direct negotiations with Israel. A strong supporter of the two-state solution, Biden has called on both sides to refrain from unilateral moves that push the chance for an eventual agreement further away. 

I do not agree with every single aspect of a potential Biden Administration’s Israel and broader Middle East policies (the Iran deal is one thing that immediately comes to mind). However, I am confident that Joe will take the concerns of Israeli leaders and security and intelligence officials into account when it comes to these issues and more. 

Joe Biden will never use the Jewish state as a partisan football because he knows that robust bipartisan support for Israel is critical for its safety and security and in the fundamental interests of the United States. He will continue to support Israel and the special nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship as the next President of the United States because it’s part of who he is. It’s just in his kishkes. 

About the Author
Brian Burke is a Pittsburgh native and 2019 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied political science, history, and Jewish studies. In college, he was involved with Hillel and the David Project, holding several leadership positions including president of the Pitt Hillel Jewish Student Union in 2018. Like many early 20-somethings, he is figuring out what comes next amidst the health and economic uncertainties of these times.
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