Addressing American Jews in a Rosh Hashanah message, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said that Donald Trump’s failure to combat coronavirus “betrayed the rabbinical charge that if you save one life, it’s as if you save the entire world. We have to do better.”
In his virtual Jewish New Year greeting, Biden told supporters in the Jewish community that the question Jews ask themselves during the High Holy Days “are the very same questions we are asking ourselves this fall - what kind of a country do we want to be?”
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Looking ahead to the November elections, Biden said that both Judaism and Christianity “instruct us that we can’t ignore what’s happening around us - a deadly pandemic, a devastating economic crisis, a moral reckoning on racial justice, declining faith in a bright American future. The common thread between them is a president who makes things worse, who appeals to our dark side, who focuses on division, and by his own admission, downplayed the threat of the virus, allowing a staggering number of Americans to die.”
Biden wished American Jews “a happy and healthy sweet New Year,” saying “it’s got to be a better year than last year.”
He expressed sympathy for the fact that instead of gathering in synagogue and “eating apples and honey” with friends and family, Jews were experiencing a holiday marked by “social distancing, profound pain, grief and loss” but that religious traditions teach that “you can find purpose in pain.”
In his remarks, Biden vowed to act against “bigotry and antisemitism.” He recalled, as he has previously, that a turning point in his decision to seek the presidency took place in 2017 when “those folks came out of the fields in Charlottesville, carrying torches, their veins bulging, chanting the same antisemitic bile that was heard in the streets of Germany in the 30s” and “when the president was asked about the young woman who was killed, he said there were very fine people on both sides. That’s not who we are.”
Biden only mentioned Israel briefly, saying that “together we can pursue peace in the world, including by remaining a steadfast ally of Israel.”
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Speaking more extensively on Israel on the online broadcast was one of Biden’s prominent Jewish surrogates, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro.
“Our community values the pursuit of peace and steps have been taken this week to expand the circle of peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Shapiro said, referencing the White House signing of agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain but added that “it needs to be expanded further including a two state solution with Palestinians.”
Shapiro said Biden “has a lifetime record on Israel’s security and legitimacy, both protecting and advancing the search for peace in every possible way” and that he “would never politicize this relationship for his own personal gain as we see far too often today and would never violate the bipartisan consensus that has always been the heart and strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
According to Shapiro, Jews should ask themselves, “Are we going to elect a president who would never lecture us - the American Jewish community on how much we love Israel? We know we do. He knows we do. We don’t need lectures.”
Aaron Keyak, Biden’s Jewish engagement director who organized the event delivered the sharpest messages against Trump, saying that the president has “been weak on combatting antisemitism, he’s recklessly wielded Israel as a partisan weapon and hasn’t stood up for the qualitative military edge of the world’s only Jewish state. And just this week, he once again trafficked in the trope of dual loyalty.”
Keyak’s reference to Israel’s qualitative edge stemmed from the president’s statement two days earlier that he would “have no problem in selling F-35 planes to the United Arab Emirates.” The dual loyalty charge apparently pointed to Trump’s Rosh Hashanah message to Jewish leaders on a call with them Tuesday, when he told them “we really appreciate you and we love your country also”, referring to Israel.
By contrast, Keyak said, Biden has maintained an “honest and unwavering friendship with Israel” over the years. More importantly, he said, “Joe Biden is a mensch, and we need a mensch back in the White House. We need a president who is determined not to divide or inflame, but to heal and inspire, and bring our values into the Oval Office.”