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Israel appears to be in more serious trouble diplomatically than at any time in its history following the botched attack by an “elite” commando squad on the Mavi Marmara in the early morning hours of June 1 that left at least nine dead and scores wounded. Thanks to Al-Jazeera and Iran’s PressTV, whose reporters were aboard the ship, much of the world was able to watch the attack unfold on its TV and computer screens and the result has been an avalanche of outrage and ongoing protests against the Jewish state. Within Israel this has led to finger-pointing and calls for resignations while its hasbara machinery has gone rapidly into damage-control and disinformation mode.
Lest we forget, the first U.S. official to give Israel’s bloody assault a thumbs up sign was Vice President Joe Biden. The former Delaware senator has been a key part of Israel’s hasbara branch, American section, since entering the Senate in 1973 and on the Wednesday following the Israeli attack, he appeared on the Charlie Rose Show where he showed no hesitation in defending Israel’s handling of the raid, something that President Obama had been reluctant to do.
On the following morning, Jerusalem Post Editor David Horvitz speaking for 45 minutes to Congressional staffers and AIPAC members on a conference call praised Biden’s performance. “It is not entirely clear in Israel where America stands,” he said, but “Israel was very pleased with what Joe Biden had to say.”
But isn’t that why Joe was picked for the job? Was it not to get the vote and the money from those Jews who were afraid that Barack Obama –who they suspected of being a closet Muslim—was no true friend of Israel?
Obama picked Biden “who is about as close to the pro-Israel community as any member of either house,” observed MJ Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer, on TPM Café, just after Biden’s selection. “Biden is rated 100 per cent by AIPAC … When he goes to the synagogues in Florida, he goes not as a visitor but as ‘mishpocha’ [family]. The Jews simply love the guy.”
“Bottom line,” concluded Rosenberg, “the Biden choice pretty much eliminated Obama’s ‘Jewish problem.’" That was then and now it doesn’t seem to matter what position Obama takes, Biden seems to answer to his real boss. And it ain’t Barack.
Appearing on the Charlie Rose show was but the latest assignment for Biden in his long career of serving Israel, the first 35 years of which he was drawing salary and gaining political clout as a US Senator for a state whose population is only slightly larger than that of San Francisco (783,600 to 776,733).
“Look,” Biden told Rose in a rambling monologue in which he confused Ehud Barak with Ariel Sharon, “you can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not … but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they’re at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in. And up to now, Charlie, what’s happened? They’ve said, ‘Here you go. You’re in the Mediterranean. This ship — if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we’ll get the stuff into Gaza.’ So what’s the big deal here? What’s the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it’s legitimate for Israel to say, ‘I don’t know what’s on that ship. These guys are dropping eight — 3,000 rockets on my people.’ ”
No big deal, Joe, at least nine dead, or four less than the number of Israelis killed since the first Palestinian rocket was fired from Gaza. And notice how easily he says “my” and pretends that rockets are still being fired from Gaza.
That “my” was not a Freudian slip. Like scores of other US politicians who have traded their political souls for access to the seemingly bottomless checking accounts of Israel’s American supporters, Biden has become a poster boy for “dual loyalty.” Given that he has done this as a member of Congress and continues to do so while now a heartbeat from the White House should probably qualify him for a treason trial and a cell next to Jonathan Pollard.
Back in 2007, on one of his many visits to Israel, he told a Shalom TV interviewer that the Jewish state was "the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East." Going beyond the standard AIPAC scripted boilerplate, Biden stated, "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."
Asked about his prospective cell neighbor, sentenced to life-imprisonment in 1985 for turning over mounds of top secret information to Israel, Biden spoke of leniency for Pollard but not a pardon.
"There’s a rationale, in my view, why Pollard should be given leniency, “said Biden. But there is not a rationale to say, ‘What happened did not happen and should be pardoned.’" In other words, should Biden become president, it is likely that Pollard would be freed.
Looking at Biden’s track record, it would seem that he has not just been a key cheerleader for Israel; he has aspired to be a member of its coaching staff.
Speaking to an AIPAC meeting in 1992, he was quoted by the organization’s Near East Report as saying that it was time to “tell the American people straight out that it’s in our naked self-interest to see to it that the moral commitment and political commitment is kept with regard to Israel and that Israel is not the cause of our problem, but the essence of the solution.” This was in response to President George H.W. Bush’s second refusal to support Israel’s demand for $10 billion in loan guarantees. Which of America’s problems Israel was able to solve Biden didn’t mention.
In December, 1995, two years after Oslo, he spoke at an AIPAC meeting in San Francisco and told a lunchtime audience that included most of the Bay Area’s public officials that they needed to spend more time educating new members of Congress about the wonders of Israel and its strategic value to the US:
“Be prepared to both convert and be prepared to deal with those who are not converted….
“Israel is taking more chances on her security today than any time in her history….Arabs make peace with Israel only when they realize that they can’t drive a wedge between the US and Israel. We cannot afford to publicly criticize Israel.” This past March, back in Israel on a “fence-mending” assignment, just before he was blindsided by the announcement of Israel’s plan to build 1600 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem, Biden had modified his “can’t drive a wedge” to read “there is no space between.”
At that time Biden gave his San Francisco speech, he had taken in over $100,000 from pro-Israel PACs which was small change compared to what he had received in individual donations. By far the largest of these came in 1988, when he made his first bid for the presidency. It was a $1.5 million gift from San Francisco financial real estate magnate Walter Shorenstein, who was, by no coincidence, AIPAC’s main man in California as well a major player in the state’s Democratic Party. It turned out to be a poor investment since that was the year that Biden was caught plagiarizing a speech by British Labor leader Neil Kinnock and had to withdraw from the race.
In 2007, true to form, Biden took the lead in the Senate in rejecting the Iraq Study Group’s conclusion that the United States would not be able to achieve its goals in Iraq unless it "deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict,” a view taken more recently by Gen. David Petraeus.
"I do not accept the notion of linkage between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict," Biden said during his opening remarks at a January 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.” It was not that the study group said that it would but it was convenient straw man for Biden.
It was not his first comment on Iraq. It may be recalled that on May 1, 2006, Biden had co-authored an op-ed piece for the NY Times with his guru, Leslie Gelb, a former Times columnist and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, that called for Iraq to be divided into three confessional states. It was starkly similar to what had been written in a policy paper back in 1982 by Oded Yinon, a senior Israeli foreign affairs official, in which he wrote that, “To dissolve Iraq is even more important for us than dissolving Syria. In the short term, it’s Iraqi power that constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.” Gelb had first raised the issue in an op-ed in the Times in November, 2003.
During the 2008 election campaign Biden was outraged to find his loyalty to Israel being questioned by what he reportedly thought was AIPAC but which turned out to be the Republican Jewish Coalition. The RJC had accused him of not towing the AIPAC line on one or two occasions which caused Biden to defend his willingness to oppose AIPAC on some pieces of legislation.
In a 20-minute conference call with members of the Jewish media that September, Biden said it was up to the Israelis to make decisions about war and peace, including 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. “"Israel has the right to defend itself and it doesn’t have to ask, just as any other free and independent country. 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 as vice-president his job would be to protect US interests and not Israel’s and that an attack on Iran might jeopardize American interests either had not occurred to him or was of no concern.
In the interview, Biden tried to position himself as being even more pro-Israel than AIPAC, vigorously defending his record of occasionally breaking ranks with the pro-Israel lobby. “AIPAC does not speak for the entire American Jewish community,” he said. “There’s other organizations as strong and as consequential.”
Moreover, Biden insisted, "I will take a back seat to no one, and again, no one in AIPAC or any other organization, in terms of questioning my support of the State of Israel."
“Insiders at the lobby were more bemused than offended by the outburst” wrote the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas, “saying they regarded Biden as essentially pro-Israel. Sources familiar with the situation said the Obama camp’s explanation was that Biden had mistakenly thought it was AIPAC who had criticized him, as opposed to the RJC.”
Upset at the RJC’s questioning of Biden’s pro-Israel credentials The New Republic’s Marty Peretz, entered the lists in his behalf. Wrote Peretz in TNR and the Jerusalem Post in September,2008:
“If ever there was a true friend of Israel in the United States Senate it is Joe Biden. Oh yes, there were also Owen Brewster, Republican from Maine, and Guy Gillette, Democrat from Iowa. But that goes back to the very founding of the state.
“This is not hyperbole about Biden. It is true. And it is so not just on a philosophical basis but in deeds, too. Biden is a true friend on both a higher and a deeper level, and he has been that for three and a half decades. It is reckless for Jews to trifle with such allies. We have, as I’ve said, many friends. But what we do not have is many such allies – formidable, expert, truly passionate.”
Following the election and now, as vice-president, Biden continued to merit Peretz’s confidence. Speaking at AIPAC’s 2009 policy conference in Washington, he began by describing how he had been warmly welcomed on a visit to Israel in 1973 as a freshman senator by Prime Minister Golda Meir and befriended by Yitzhak Rabin. Then, to loud rounds of applause, he told his audience:
“[W]e have to pursue every opportunity for progress while standing up for one core principle: First, Israel’s security is non-negotiable. Period. Period. [sic]Our commitment is unshakeable. We will continue to provide Israel with the assistance that it needs. We will continue to defend Israel’s right to defend itself and make its own judgments about what it needs to do to defend itself.”
Toward the end of his speech, Biden timorously advanced a position that has long been official US policy. “You’re not going to like my saying this,” he said, but [do]not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement.” There was no applause.
In 1994, Biden was a key player in one of the ugliest episodes in American political history and one that characterizes the subservience of Washington to Israel in its way much as did the cover-up of Israel ‘s attack on the USS Liberty 53 years ago on June 8th.
It featured a star chamber recantation before a confirmation hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Biden, of Strobe Talbott, former Soviet affairs analyst for Time, of an article he had written, following his nomination as Deputy Secretary of State by Bill Clinton. Talbott was facing the inquisition as a result of a major article he had written for the magazine in 1981, “What to do about Israel” (9/7/81). In it, Talbott had advocated a new policy towards Israel-US relations that would “rescue that relationship… starting with the delusion that Israel is, or ever has been, primarily a strategic ally.”
While expressing the obligatory degree of affection for Israel, Talbott had not been equivocal. Referring to problems that had been created for the Reagan administration by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Talbott wrote in words, especially pertinent today, “His country does need the US for its survival, but the sad fact is that Israel is well on its way to becoming not just a dubious asset but an outright liability to American security interests, both in the Middle East and worldwide.”
Talbott was referring to Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak and a deadly bombing raid over Beirut that killed over 100 people and wounded 600 more, most of them civilians. Talbott had advised that, “If Israel continues to take international law into its own hands as violently—and as embarrassingly to the US—as it did in Baghdad and Beirut, then the next display of US displeasure ought to be more sustained and less symbolic. It might include severe cutbacks in American military aid, which is $1.2 billion for fiscal ’81 alone.[It is now officially $3 billion].
Pressed to recant, Talbott uttered the required response. As reported by the New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse,
“‘I do want to set the record straight on the question of my view of Israel as a strategic asset,’ he said, sounding chastened and contrite. ‘On that I have simply changed my opinion.’
“On the other hand, straining to reassure supporters of Israel, Mr. Talbott said, ‘I have always believed that the US-Israeli relationship is unshakable. Second, I have always believed that a strong Israel is in America’s interest because it serves the cause of peace and stability in the region…’
“During his 21 years at Time, Mr. Talbott often criticized Israel. Today he took a markedly different tone, portraying himself as a friend of Israel.”
In the article Talbott, had written that “Begin recognized that American Jews wield influence far beyond their numbers, but he also knew that there is considerable pent-up irritation in the US with the power of the pro-Israel lobby (which includes, of course, many non-Jews).” It was clearly his own opinion, as well.
Biden, according to the NY Times, jumped on that statement, calling it,“totally inappropriate,” to which Talbott, “asserting that no sight was intended,” noted that this “was simply a statement of fact,” and turned to Sen. Bernard Metzenbaum from his home state of Ohio for confirmation. Metzenbaum said that he was “satisfied” with Talbott’s remarks, but, “Maybe, in retrospect, he might have changed some phrases or some paragraphs.”
Mind you, Talbott had questioned Israel’s strategic value to the US in 1981, in the heart of the Cold War when he was considered one of the main stream media’s ranking Soviet experts. Before going before the Senate, he had become a senior advisor on the former Soviet Union to the Clinton White House. By 1994, with the Soviet bloc no longer in the picture, it was generally agreed, even in Tel Aviv, that Israel’s value to the US had been severely diminished.
Biden went on, citing the same article, noted that Talbott also had written: "Israel has been a credit to itself and its American backers."
Playing the role of Torquemada, he asked Talbott, “Do you believe that?"
"Yes, senator, I do," he obediently replied.
His “conversion” process having been completed, Talbott received the senator’s and subsequently the Senate’s approval.
The reader should not be left with the impression that Joe Biden’s prime passions are limited to the love of Israel.
While in the Senate, he was a key supporter of the credit card industry, much of which is based in Delaware thanks to its cozy industry friendly tax laws and he was a key beneficiary of its campaign contributions. In return, he became a leading supporter of the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005" which, despite its title, made it harder for consumers to get protection under bankruptcy.
Biden was one of the first Democratic supporters of the bill and voted for it four times until it finally passed in March, 2005. Twisting the truth, a spokesman for Sen. Obama told the NY Times, "Senator Biden took on entrenched interests and succeeded in improving the bill for low-income workers, women and children."
But even the Times wasn’t buying that. Biden, the paper noted, was one of only five Democrats who voted against a proposal that would require credit card companies to provide more effective warnings to consumers about the consequences of paying only the minimum amount due each month. Obama had voted for it.
Biden differed with Obama again when he helped to defeat amendments which would have strengthened protections for people forced into bankruptcy who have large medical debts or are in the military. He was also one of four Democrats who sided with Republicans to defeat an effort, supported by Obama, to shift responsibility in certain cases from debtors to the predatory lenders who helped push them into bankruptcy.
So why did Obama pick Biden for his running mate? We already know the answer.
JEFFREY BLANKFORT can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org