Biden’s eclipsing of Sanders a blow for Palestinians

Biden’s eclipsing of Sanders a blow for Palestinians

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Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee in the 2020 US presidential election. (Reuters)

Sen. Bernie Sanders has exited the race to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. His anticlimactic decision last week was a disappointment, if not a heartbreaking moment, for millions of Americans who thought that, at long last, their country was ready to embrace a non-elitist democratic system.

For Palestinians and their supporters, however, Sanders’ concession is particularly painful. Never before had a serious presidential candidate used mainstream platforms to accuse Washington of being “complicit” in the Israeli occupation of Palestine or, even more daringly, call the current Israeli government “racist.”

Sanders’ main rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, is now the Democratic nominee, which may prove costly come the presidential election in November. But what should Palestinians and Arabs expect from Biden, whose political views have often been overshadowed by popular presidencies like that of Barack Obama? 

Despite his administration’s generous support for Israel, Obama was often viewed with extreme suspicion in Tel Aviv. These feelings were cemented by his decision not to veto UN Security Council resolution 2334, which reaffirmed that Israeli settlements “have no legal validity.”

Throughout Obama’s two terms in office (2009-2017), Biden assuaged Israeli fears and reassured Israel’s leaders of Washington’s unconditional love and support for Tel Aviv. At an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in March 2013, Biden elaborated on his president’s commitment to “the Jewish state of Israel.” He said: “I’ve served with eight presidents of the United States of America and I can assure you, unequivocally, no president has done as much to physically secure the state of Israel as President Barack Obama.”

He went even further. In a fiercely pro-Israel 2014 speech, Biden told the annual Saban Forum hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington: “If there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one.”

In this speech, Biden added a new component to the American understanding of its relationship with Israel — one that goes beyond political expediency or ideological connections: A commitment that is founded on “moral obligation.” He said: “We always talk about Israel from this perspective, as if we’re doing (them) some favor. We are meeting a moral obligation. But it is so much more than a moral obligation. It is overwhelmingly in the self-interest of the United States of America to have a secure and democratic friend, a strategic partner like Israel. It is no favor. It is an obligation, but also a strategic necessity.”

Biden’s lexicon went on to evolve even further, to the extent that, in April 2015, the vice president began his speech at the 67th annual Israeli Independence Day celebration in Jerusalem with these words: “My name is Joe Biden, and everybody knows I love Israel.”

“Sometimes we drive each other crazy,” Biden said in reference to disagreements between Israel and the US over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to halt construction of illegal Jewish settlements. “But we love each other. And we protect each other… As many of you heard me say before, were there no Israel, America would have to invent one. We’d have to invent one because you protect our interests like we protect yours.”

It could be argued that Biden’s love affair with Israel can be explained by the skewed nature of American policies regarding the Middle East, which allows the Israel lobby in Washington to make or break the careers of politicians. But, judging from Biden’s statements (and behavior), his love for Israel is genuine, grounded in decades of advocacy on behalf of Israel’s right-wing governments and, naturally, against Arab interests. 

In 1984, when Biden was a Delaware senator and a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he spoke at the annual conference of the Herut Zionists of America (Herut is the forerunner of Israel’s ruling Likud party). In his speech before the jubilant right-wing, pro-Israel Zionist crowd, Biden derided the Palestine Liberation Organization and Arab governments for supposedly derailing peace talks. 

Time only cemented Biden’s pro-Israel’s convictions, leading to his declaration in April 2007 that he is not a mere supporter of Israel — as has become the standard among US politicians — but is a Zionist himself. “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” he said during an interview with Shalom TV, soon before he was chosen to be Obama’s running mate ahead of the 2008 election. 

Throughout Obama’s two terms in office, Biden reassured Israel’s leaders of Washington’s unconditional love and support.

Ramzy Baroud

The same sentiment was echoed as recently as last month, when Biden renewed his vow to protect Israel, while blaming Palestinians for their own misery, during a speech to the AIPAC lobby group. Biden’s address culminated in a call for US support for Israel that is “above politics and beyond politics.” He said: “Israelis wake up every morning facing an existential threat from their neighbors’ rockets from Gaza. That’s why I’ve always been adamant that Israel must be able to defend itself. It’s not just critical for Israeli security. I believe it’s critical for America’s security.” 

Palestinians “need to end the rocket attacks from Gaza,” Biden added. “They need to accept once and for all the reality and the right of a secure, democratic and Jewish state of Israel in the Middle East.”

While Donald Trump’s support for Israel has been characterized by successive steps, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Biden’s case has been made through an undeviating political message that has spanned decades. With presidential campaigning now underway, both the Republican and Democratic candidates are likely to spar over who loves Israel more. Sanders will be sorely missed. 

  • Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine studies from the University of Exeter. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud
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