Vice President Joseph Biden stressed the Obama administration’s “rock solid” commitment to Israeli security in an address to 5,000 American Jews on Saturday night.
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Biden spoke 36 hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet Monday with President Barack Obama at the White House, the first time the two heads of state will meet since the bitter and personal fight over the international nuclear deal with Iran.
Although leaders of the two countries may “vehemently disagree,” Biden declared that “the core of our alliance is as solid as steel. No one, president or prime minister, can alter that, no matter what they do.”
At the same time, Biden made a point of angrily condemning the derogatory remarks accusing Obama of anti-Semitism made by the incoming head of Israel's National Public Diplomacy Directorate, Dr. Ran Baratz, on social media.
Without mentioning the Baratz affair by name, Biden clearly referenced it, saying “although we won’t always agree, and this is the one thing I do want to say - We should always be respectful of one another,” adding emotionally that “there is no excuse, there should be no tolerance for any member or employee of the Israeli administration referring to the president of United States in derogatory terms. Period, period, period, period!
"There is no justification for an official Israeli voice degrading the secretary of state, who has worked so hard, for so long for the security of Israel. But notwithstanding even those terrible comments, no one, no one, no one can undermine our relationship or long term security and future of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.”
Over the course of his 45-minute speech, Biden repeatedly assured his audience that both he and President Obama believed the deal was the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and vowed that the United States would hold the Islamic Republic to its obligations.
“I guarantee you that we are going to ensure that Iran lives up to all its commitment to that deal. If they don’t, the sanctions will snap back and all options will remain on the table – including the use of military force. We will simply not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon – period,” Biden said.
Biden added that the U.S. was “deeply concerned about the new cycle of violence that has taken hold” in Israel and the West Bank, condemning “Palestinian acts of violence against Israel, and inflammatory rhetoric that inspires random acts of violence.”
“There is an urgent need to take steps to restore the calm and ease the tension,” he said. “Both sides need to demonstrate restraint. We don’t want another intifada, we don’t want them escalating any further.”
The bloody wave of recent violence, he said, is "a visceral reminder that we have to find our way back to achieve a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people."
Noting the 20 year anniversary of the assassination of “my friend” Yitzhak Rabin, Biden added: “As we honor his legacy of leadership, we have to remember he was a man dedicated to the path of peace and we should never abandon the hope of achieving a two-state solution. Nothing would ensure Israel’s long term security more than a two-state solution. So let’s stop the talk of abandoning that goal."
After promising that the U.S. was committed to providing support to Israel that would maintain its “qualitative military advantage” over the many threats around it, Biden said “a more serious threat to Israel’s security is the attempt by so many in the world to delegitimize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish democratic state in the region. Admittedly no country should be immune from criticism. The bigoted attacks, the efforts to delegitimize Israel are little more than anti-Semitism, plain and simple, and we will call it out whenever it occurs.”
Biden received a warm welcome from the 5,000 leaders representing hundreds of Reform congregations across North America gathered in Orlando, Florida. He was introduced by URJ president Rick Jacobs, who praised Biden as “a lifelong, steadfast and wise friend of Israel.”
After the crowd gave Biden several enthusiastic lengthy standing ovations, the vice president joked, “you better stop, you’ll make me change my mind,” referring to the fact that he recently ended months of speculation announcing that he will not be a candidate in the 2016 presidential race. He added hastily: “I’m kidding.”
Earlier in the evening, the URJ paid tribute to a personal friend of Biden’s, Rabbi David Saperstein, who headed the movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. for 40 years, before stepping down. He now serves as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, serving as an advisor to the president and secretary of state and the United States’ chief diplomat on issues of religious freedom worldwide.
Biden, who began his Washington career in the early 1970s – the same time as Saperstein began his career at the RAC, and a personal friend, thanked Saperstein for his partnership and support on numerous historic legislative efforts and expressed his “appreciation of David’s many years of service to his country – and service to me.”