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A Question for Joe Biden on Israel

“Well, Joe, where were you on the night before that unfortunate vote?”
[additional-authors]
June 3, 2020
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – MARCH 09: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin ( L ) walks U.S Vice President Joe Biden ( R ) down the red carpet as they prepare to give a press conference in the Israeli Presidential residence on March 9, 2016 in Jerusalem, Israel. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is on a two day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

The virus that threw us all a curve until we anxiously flattened it is still a public health menace. No vaccine. No reliable antibody tests. No scientific certainty.

No matter. The people want out, and governors are slowly giving it to them.

Which means that the news cycle is beginning to spin toward new stories — the tragic racism and riots in Minnesota and across the country and an impending presidential election.

Remember that? Bernie, Buttigieg, Booker, Bloomberg, Biden. An impeachment trial and acquittal of the president. All to kick-off 2020!

The choice between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will be decided in November. Many voters likely will be wearing masks — some safeguarding against bacteria at the ballot box, and the rest in shame.

It will be a momentous but largely uninspiring presidential contest, except for the fact that both candidates suffer from a virus of a different sort, located in their mouths: Biden exhales giant gaffes; Trump insults without any impulse control.

As we anticipate whether the national conventions will comply with social distancing or be held at all, many questions will be directed toward the candidates. For Israel supporters, however, one very important matter has gone unanswered and Biden should be required to address it.

The question hasn’t bedeviled him yet, probably because the angel dust that the media and Jewish liberals sprinkled all over former President Barack Obama apparently dusted off on his trusty vice president. President Obama received a pass on Israel.

Joe Biden, hopefully, will not.

Every police procedural TV show or film has the same obligatory scene. A potential suspect or eyewitness is asked, “Where were you on the night of … ?”

In Biden’s case, the relevant date is Dec. 22, 2016.

What happened that night? Well, a Middle-Eastern Pearl Harbor occurred the very next day, with the United States serving in the role of Japan. Guess who got blindsided? America’s inaction infamously tarnished the “special relationship” between Israel and the United States.

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 30: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses the 4th National J Street Conference at the Washington Convention Center September 30, 2013 in Washington, D.C. J Street is a nonprofit advocacy group made up primarily of Jews based in the U.S. which says it aims to promote American leadership in ending the Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestinian conflicts through diplomacy. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)

The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2334, with a 14-0 vote and  one abstention — the United States. The U.S. has Security Council veto power; the other four nations that also have veto power — China, France, Russia and Great Britain — all voted in favor. In the most extreme language possible, the resolution condemned Israeli settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law with “no legal validity.” It also referred to all of Jerusalem as “occupied territory” — meaning a return to the border that existed before the Six-Day War, and the implication that even the Western Wall was not part of Israel proper.

Given that Israel captured these territories in a defensive war, the land was never part of a Palestinian state, and that violence against the Jewish state has never subsided, there is no legal, moral or political basis for the assault on Israeli sovereignty that Resolution 2334 represented. (And Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” simply does not apply to this situation. Jews had a possessory claim to the land. The Israeli government did not transfer anyone — the settlers sprinted toward the territories of their own volition. Finally, neither the West Bank nor the Gaza Strip was part of an actual state contemplated by Article 49.)

The Obama administration was less interested in American Exceptionalism than with American contrition. And it treated Israel as if it, too, had colonial sins to atone for.

If you want to know more so you can rebut your friends (or enemies) when their ignorance and smug virtue gets on your nerves, you can read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (I know: You’re welcome.)

Before the passage of Resolution 2334, the official American position on Israeli settlements was that they were unhelpful to the peace process. Never were they deemed “illegal.” And before Resolution 2334, whenever Israel was being ganged up on at the Security Council, which always dominated the agenda of the U.N. in ways that genocides in Congo, Sudan and Syria, and occupations in North Cyprus, Kashmir and Kurdistan never do, the United States could also be relied upon to veto the resolution.

Not this time, however. During the final days of the Obama administration, the United States abstained. It is simply not possible to overstate the magnitude of this betrayal.

“Well, Joe, where were you on the night before that unfortunate vote?”

If in the Situation Room, did you say anything that resembled the following: “Mr. President, if I may: We simply must veto this resolution. First, it is legally wrong on its face. Second, it completely upends the relationship between Israel and the United States. Third, it’s not how we should treat a friend that happens to be the only democracy in the region. Fourth, our silence will be interpreted as if we believe that Israel should return to its former indefensible borders. And lastly, sir, the resolution says nothing about Palestinian rejectionism and violence, which is the main reason why there is no peace and no two states.”

Biden was known for his fierce loyalty to the president. It is unlikely that he responded in this manner, or at all. He knew that his boss, despite the many areas of cooperation and assistance between the two countries, also had a curious fetish when it came to spanking Israel, and especially its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

And he was fixated on Israeli settlements with a passion he couldn’t summon when it came to challenging the tyrannical ayatollahs of Iran, and brutal dictators elsewhere. The Obama administration was less interested in American Exceptionalism than with American contrition. And it treated Israel as if it, too, had colonial sins to atone for.

Trump’s bona fides as a booster of the Jewish state are without equal. Even if reelected, he may still be remembered as the most polarizing, anti-democratic and possibly worst president in American history.

After a long and distinguished career of public service, many fine things can be said of Vice President Biden. But if he was silent on the night of Dec. 22, 2016, then being solidly pro-Israel is, I’m afraid, not one of them — especially when compared with the Middle East track record of President Donald Trump.

Trump’s bona fides as a booster of the Jewish state are without equal. Even if reelected, he may still be remembered as the most polarizing, anti-democratic and possibly worst president in American history. But in Israel, after four-years of unprecedented gift-giving, he can rightly claim to be the stepfather of Zionism. Theodor Herzl might not even mind the shared billing.


Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His work has appeared in major national and global publications. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio and appears frequently on cable TV news programs. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.”

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