Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate is a friend of Israel who nonetheless has a complex and sophisticated perspective on the Middle East that resists easy classification. This JTA news service profile of Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware should reassure both nervous pro-Israel voters and those who seek a reasonable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [This is not meant as a Meretz USA endorsement of a candidate, which our tax status does not allow] :
… The loquacious Biden, a senator since 1973, has sparred frequently with the pro-Israel community and with Israelis, particularly on the issue of settlements. But he has a sterling voting record on pro-Israel issues and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has helped shepherd through key pro-Israel legislation.
His straightforwardness is considered an asset, even among those supporters who have disagreed with him. … Biden has been especially sharp in criticizing the United States and Israel in their failure to support Mahmoud Abbas in 2003, when he was the Palestinian Authority prime minister attempting to establish a power base to challenge then-President Yasser Arafat.
Abbas eventually was sidelined by Arafat, allowing the Palestinian leader to continue his policies of corruption and stasis until his death – and creating a vacuum ultimately filled in large part by Hamas terrorists.
“I’ve had my shouting matches over 25 years, privately, in my office and in the offices of prime ministers,” Biden said in a March 2007 interview with the Forward. “I’ve had disagreements. Israel’s a democracy and they make mistakes. But the notion that somehow if Israel just did the right thing, [the peace process] would work, I mean that’s the premise, give me a break.”
In that same interview, Biden firmly rejected calls for the United States to distance itself from Israel and assume a more neutral role in brokering Middle East peace talks.
“The suffering is real on both sides, but there is a side that can impact on ending it,” he said. “The responsibility rests on those who will not acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, will not play fair, will not deal, will not renounce terror.”
Just two months earlier, Biden took the lead in the Senate in rejecting the Iraq Study Group’s assertion that the United States would not be able to achieve its goals in Iraq unless it “deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
“I do not accept the notion of linkage between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Biden said during his opening remarks at a Jan. 17, 2007 Senate hearing. “Arab-Israeli peace is worth pursuing vigorously on its own merits, but even if a peace treaty were signed tomorrow, it would not end the civil war in Iraq.”
… Biden’s son married into a Jewish family, but his keen interest in the region dates back to his first visit as a senator, not long before the 1973 Yom Kippur. He met Israel’s then-prime minister, Golda Meir.
In an interview with Shalom TV last year, when he launched his own presidential bid, Biden said he came away from that meeting understanding that “there is this inextricable tie between culture, religion, ethnicity that most people don’t fully understand – that is unique and so strong with Jews worldwide.”
“When I was a young senator, I used to say, ‘If I were a Jew, I’d be a Zionist.’ I am a Zionist,” he said. “You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” …
This entire article can be read at the JTA.org Web site. One can also get a glimpse of his interview on Shalom TV (our thanks to Werner Cohn for spotting this) for a sense of Sen. Biden’s sincerity and good will.