(April 29, 2020 / JNS) Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, embraced the endorsement this month from the American Jewish lobby group J Street.
“I’m honored to have earned J Street’s first-ever presidential endorsement,” he said on April 17. “J Street has been a powerful voice to advance social justice here at home and to advocate for a two-state solution that advances Middle East Peace.”
He added, “I share with J Street’s membership an unyielding dedication to the survival and security of Israel, and an equal commitment to creating a future of peace and opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian children alike. That’s what we have to keep working toward—and what I’ll do as president with J Street’s support.”
At the end of the day, how much sway will J Street and the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party have on the former vice president in terms of positions on the U.S.-Israel relationship and Iran? Would a Biden presidency veer left of the Obama administration?
In a statement on April 17, president of J Street Jeremy Ben-Ami said “at a time when the threats to our core values both at home and abroad have never been more serious, all of us in the pro-Israel, pro-peace community know that the path to a better future begins with defeating Donald Trump at the polls.
“To help achieve that pivotal goal, we’re thrilled to endorse Vice President Biden—a longtime friend of J Street who truly understands the need for a bold new era of American foreign policy rooted in principled, proactive diplomacy,” he said.
Biden’s embrace of the endorsement comes at a time where many are concerned about the erosion of support for Israel within the Democratic Party, especially with far-left Democrats like Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) openly endorsing the BDS movement. They have also been associated with continued anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric.
Political strategist Jeff Ballabon, who played a role in shaping the 2016 Republican platform on Israel, told JNS that Biden and former President Barack Obama began the path of eroding bipartisan support for the Jewish state during their tenure.
“Let’s recall that Obama, with Biden by his side, drove the U.S.-Israel relationship steadily, often shockingly, down,” he said. “Since then, the push leftward has continued among Democrats. In fact, it was Obama-Biden’s leftward push that normalized radical anti-Israelism in our country’s national politics, and led directly to the mainstreaming of individuals like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.”
Biden, who spoke at a number of J Street conferences when he was vice president, did not speak in person at its gathering in October (instead, he sent a video). That’s when then-candidate Bernie Sanders said that U.S. aid to Israel should be conditioned on ending its “occupation,” and that some of it should go to Gaza. Biden later called Sanders suggestion “absolutely outrageous.”
At the same time, Biden has maintained strong ties with AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, D.C., which has been challenged by the left-leaning J Street for the past decade.
He made another video, this one addressed to the AIPAC conference in early March, where he warned that Israel’s policies in the disputed territories have been ostracizing American Jewish youth.
“That’s going to choke off any hope for peace. And to be frank, those moves are taking Israel further from its democratic values [and] undermining support for Israel in the United States, especially among young people in both political parties,” he said.
‘A secure, peaceful future for Israel’
With Sanders now out of the race, Biden is receiving support from major Democratic Jewish groups.
In a letter from Jewish Democratic Coalition of America’s board of directors and its executive director, Halie Soifer, to the former vice president, they wrote, “You share the Jewish community’s commitment to the principle of tikkun olam, healing the world, in addition to our commitment to combating the rise of anti-Semitism and supporting a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
“For decades, you have demonstrated—and continue to demonstrate—a steadfast commitment to Israel’s security and right to self-defense, as well as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” they continued. “We know your commitment to Israel is unwavering, and we will defend your record against ongoing Republican efforts to exploit it as a political wedge issue.”
“I’m honored to have the endorsement of the Jewish Democratic Council of America,” Biden said in a statement to Jewish Insider. “They are an important new voice for the progressive values that unite us here at home and for a secure, peaceful future for the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.”
Former National Jewish Democratic Council head Aaron Keyak told JNS that Biden has played a key role in securing aid for Israel.
“Throughout his entire career, Vice President Joe Biden has been a leader in the fight to strengthen the U.S.-Israel partnership, including voting against the Reagan administration’s sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia and a $38 billion MOU with Israel negotiated by the Obama-Biden administration, the largest such agreement ever negotiated,” he said.
“As president of the United States, Joe Biden with restore America’s leadership abroad and bring dignity back to the White House,” continued Keyak. “When we are a stronger, more well-respected country, that not only benefits our closest allies, but will make the entire world more stable and secure.”
‘A dangerous pivot away from policies’
Ballabon, however, dismissed Biden’s congressional experience in that his positions on the U.S.-Israel alliance don’t reflect his stances during the Obama administration.
“The Democrats’ problem is that the party elite has moved far to the left of much of the base and certainly of swing voters,” he told JNS. “In response, Biden’s supporters are trying to sell his history in the Senate because that history reflects behavior in line with a Democrat[ic] Party far more moderate, rational and patriotic than the one we have today.”
Nevertheless, Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman told JNS that it is Biden’s long history of support for Israel that stands out.
“Having served as chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for nearly two decades and then as Vice President for eight years, Joe Biden brings substantive expertise and a real record, as well as a personal commitment, to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Mellman. “He seeks out opinions from lots of quarters, as any responsible leader does, but no individual or organization is going to lessen his support for our alliance with Israel.”
Still, Republican Jewish Coalition spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS that a Biden administration is likely to be to the left of the Obama administration.
“We know this because the mainstream of the Democrat Party has moved away from its traditional bipartisan pro-Israel stance, leaving the Republican Party as the only pro-Israel party,” he said.
“For proof, look no further than Biden inviting Bernie Sanders’ foreign-policy team onto his campaign and embracing J Street’s endorsement,” he noted.
“The U.S.-Israel relationship suffered greatly during the Obama-Biden administration,” continued Strauss. “By contrast, a Biden presidency would be a sharp and dangerous pivot away from the policies of the most pro-Israel President ever in history, Donald Trump. A risk we can’t afford to take.”
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