Right-wing Groups Go After Biden Over J Street Endorsement

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference, March 4, 2013, in Washington.Credit: AP
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

Right-wing groups and supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted former Vice President Joe Biden after he welcomed the endorsement of the left-wing Jewish group J Street over the weekend.

Biden said that he was “honored” to receive the support of the leading left-wing Jewish group, and that he shared J Street's “unyielding dedication to the survival and security of Israel.”

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Endorsing Biden was the first time that J Street had officially backed a presidential candidate.

Trump’s supporters are now criticizing Biden - the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee who is almost certainly going to face off against Trump in the November election - for his embrace of the group’s support.

Biden spoke at several J Street gatherings when he was Vice President in the Obama administration, but he also has strong ties to AIPAC, the leading pro-Israeli lobby group that J Street has been challenging from the left for more than a decade, and has also spoken often at AIPAC’s annual conferences.

The pro-Trump website Breitbart devoted an article over the weekend to J Street’s endorsement and Biden’s positive response to it. The headline described J Street as “Soros-backed Israel critics,” referring to the Jewish billionaire George Soros who has been attacked by right-wing pundits and leaders for donating to organizations that promote democracy and liberal values.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks at the J Street national conference, Washington, October 28, 2019Credit: Gili Getz

The article also described J Street as “hostile to Israel,” and criticized the group for opposing Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in the country to Jerusalem.

J Street defines itself as “The political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” It officially opposes the BDS movement and supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. J Street has strongly opposed the policies of the Trump administration regarding Israel, and has also criticized many steps by the Netanyahu government in Israel regarding settlements and the situation in Gaza.

At last year’s J Street conference, Senator Bernie Sanders – who until recently was Biden’s main competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination – made headlines by calling to use U.S. military aid to Israel as “leverage” in order to change Israel’s policy on settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Other Democratic candidates who appeared before the conference were asked about the issue by two former Obama White House aides, Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor.

Biden, who did not speak at the conference, distanced himself from the idea and attacked Sanders for promoting it. He said that it was wrong to suggest limiting aid to Israel, explaining that “I have been on the record from very early on opposing the settlements, and I think it’s a mistake. But the idea that we would draw military assistance from Israel, on the condition that they change a specific policy, I find to be absolutely outrageous.”

Biden’s more centrist and supportive views regarding Israel were used often during the Democratic primary to highlight Sanders’ more radical suggestions, especially when supporters of Trump thought that Sanders would end up being the nominee.

A month and a half ago, when Sanders was still looking like a viable candidate and Biden was struggling in the first states that held a vote, Sanders’ decision to boycott the annual AIPAC conference was contrasted by Biden’s decision to send a video message to the conference, in which he expressed support and appreciation for AIPAC’s work over the years.

Now, however, with Biden being the de-facto nominee, attacks from the right using Israel as the battering ram are directed at him. The Republican Jewish Coalition is also leveled J Street’s endorsement against Biden, and so is right-wing pundit Caroline Glick, who wrote on Twitter that following Biden’s embrace of the group’s endorsement,“the Democratic Party has officially become an anti-Israeli party.”

Biden faced similar criticism during the 2012 election when Obama was running for re-election. The campaign of that year’s Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, tried to portray Obama as hostile to Israel in the hope of getting a larger share of the Jewish vote, after 78% of U.S. Jewish voters supported Obama in 2008. At the 2012 vice presidential debate, when the issue of Israel was discussed, Biden said that he had been a friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “for 39 years” and that Republican attempts to attack Obama over Israel were “a bunch of stuff.”

When he was asked what that meant, he replied: “Well, it means it’s simply inaccurate. It’s an Irish thing. We Irish call it malarkey.”

In the primary against Sanders, supporters of the Vermont Senator criticized Biden for being too supportive of Israel, in their view, and specifically for his close relationship with AIPAC over the years. In his video address to AIPAC this year, Biden expressed support for Israel, but also cautioned that “Israel has to stop the threats of annexation. To be frank, those moves are taking Israel further from its democratic values, undermining support for Israel in the United States, especially among young people of both political parties. That’s dangerous. We can’t let that happen.”

His position on annexation is contrary to that of the Trump administration, which has signaled several times that it will support widespread Israel annexation in the West Bank.

A move by the next Israeli government to implement such a policy in the months before the U.S. election, would guarantee that Israel will remain a political wedge issue in the fight over the White House.

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