Former Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday in a briefing to supporters in the Jewish community that his rival in the upcoming U.S. election, President Donald Trump, has “put Israel in danger” by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, and has also endangered American Jews by embracing far-right conspiracy theories.
Biden spoke at a virtual event organized by J Street, which endorsed his presidential campaign earlier this year. J Street has so far raised more than $2 million from the ranks of its supporters for the Biden campaign. During Thursday’s event, Biden emphasized his support for Israel and for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That solution, he told the crowd, is “the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term security while sustaining its Jewish and democratic identity. It’s also the only way to ensure Palestinians have a state of their own.”
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Biden repeated his opposition to unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel, and said it was encouraging that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite promising to move forward with it, has so far refrained from doing so. “Israel should stop expanding West Bank settlements, stop talk of annexation,” Biden said. “Annexation is off the table now, which is a good thing.” He added that Netanyahu “knows my position” on the subject.
In addition to opposing annexation, Biden said he would renew diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians, which have been completely cut off since late 2017. “I will reengage the Palestinians,” he said, including the restoration of civilian aid. The Trump administration has cut almost all forms of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, despite requests from Israeli officials to continue that aid, which Israel sees as helpful to maintaining stability in the Palestinian arena.
Biden said that Netanyahu has been “yielding to the far-right of his party to maintain support,” but he also criticized the current Palestinian leadership, saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has “not stepped up when given opportunities.” Biden has said in the past that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to show stronger commitment to peace negotiations, and blamed Trump for his approach to the conflict.
“Trump has put Israel in danger by tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, and replaced it with nothing,” Biden said, directing his criticism at the President over his Iran policy as well. “Iran is closer to a [nuclear] weapon than when we left office in 2017,” Biden added. “And instead of Iran being isolated, we are the ones being isolated.” He warned that Iran was “much closer to a breakout” today than four years ago.
According to Biden, while Netanyahu strongly and publicly opposed the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, the agreement received the support and blessing of senior Israeli defense and intelligence officials. “When we withdrew from the agreement, President Trump promised a better deal -- which has never materialized,” Biden stated.
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Biden said that if elected president, he is willing to reenter the nuclear deal, “if Iran returns to compliance.” He also said that he will work with America’s allies to make the deal “longer and stronger,” touching on issues such as Iran’s destabilizing actions all over the Middle East, which were not included in the original agreement. Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, said in a virtual briefing to Jewish supporters two weeks ago that a Biden-Harris administration would never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
On the issue of far-right violence in the U.S., Biden accused Trump of encouraging the phenomenon by spreading conspiracy theories. “We see with so many of the conspiracy theories that poison our public sphere, that unlike every other president in modern history, Donald Trump has embraced them and egged them on,” Biden said. “He can’t lead America, he can’t protect it, so now he’s trying to scare the living hell out of people instead.”
Biden’s campaign is focusing on increasing support in the Jewish community, especially in crucial swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Approximately 70 percent of Jewish American voters supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections, and close to 80 percent supported Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm election. If Biden can inch his level of support closer to that of the midterms, it could help win in competitive states where there are large Jewish communities.
Also on Thursday, Doug Emhoff, who is Harris’ husband and is Jewish, campaigned in Florida and met with a group of rabbis from the Sunshine State. Emhoff told the group that Trump “lied” about the dangers of the coronavirus, and misled the American people.
“Bottom line, this president lied. He knew what was going on with COVID. He lied. And as a result, more than 190,000 of our fellow Americans are now dead,” Emhoff said. Referring to his own Jewish identity and education, Emhoff said: “This entire campaign is rooted in Jewish values.”