U.S. Vice President Joe Biden bade farewell to AIPAC conferences on Sunday night. A frequent and generally well-liked speaker at these events, this time Biden didn’t hold back. He heaped love on Israel and pledged endless U.S. support, blasted BDS and lambasted President Abbas’ refusal to condemn terror, skewered settlement expansion, lamented the absence of political will for peace, and even, who would have thought, defended the nuclear deal with Iran. It was an all-in-one Israel speech that ranged from currying favor to speaking inconvenient truths.
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Biden drew jeers when he condemned Israel’s settlement activity, but when he praised the Iran deal - an issue on which AIPAC openly clashed with the administration - some people actually applauded and most maintained a polite silence. There was no trace of the tensions if not open hostility that marked last summer’s harsh political confrontation. It was a testimony to people’s short memories and a evidence that AIPAC members recognize that this battle has been lost, but mainly it highlighted the fact that the focus of everybody’s attention has moved to another universe: Donald Trump and the political crisis that has gripped America as a result of his success.
Biden didn’t confront Trump directly, but lacking an inbuilt sense of irony he chose to admonish him by saying “the future belongs to bridge builders, not to wall builders.” He forgot, apparently, that Israel emphatically belongs to the second group, not the first. Small wonder that some right wingers were convinced that Biden wasn’t targeting Trump, who wants a Great Wall on the border with Mexico, but Benjamin Netanyahu who wants to surround Israel with walls throughout its perimeters save the sea.
Biden savaged settlement expansion, which is “eroding the prospect of a two-state solution.” He said, “Benjamin Netanyahu believes he can accommodate it - but I don’t.” On his recent visit to the area, Biden found that both Israelis and Palestinians lack “the political will” to move forward in the peace process “and that’s very disappointing.” Hard to think of many other politicians who could get away with criticizing Israel so directly, especially during an election season.
But Biden works Jewish audiences like a Baptist preacher in a Sunday sermon to an African-American church. He soars to heights of enthusiasm then sinks to depths of despair. He lavishes praise on the virtues of audience but then assails their sins. The 73-year-old vice president recounted that he has been participating in AIPAC conferences for decades, since the days when delegates numbered only a few hundred rather than the 18,000 that poured into Washington’s Verizon Center on Sunday night. “My Lord, Where the hell’s gonna be your next venue? Biden asked.
The change in location alters the atmosphere. The presentation of the speeches from a rotating podium at the center of a basketball arena gives it more of a rock concert ambiance than the weighty plenary sessions that were previously held in the capital’s Conference Center. It may also be more suitable for campaign rallies of the kind that the main presidential candidates were slated to hold on Monday.
Biden didn’t forget his staple story about how Golda Meir told him when he was a young senator that Jews will forever cling to Israel “because we have nowhere else to go.” He’s told this tale so often that it’s become a running joke among the journalists who follow him. But underneath the humor lay a grim reality: Biden belongs to generation that was taken in by Golda’s cheap shticks and infinite schmaltz. It sculpted his commitment to Israel and sparked his true love. But Biden and other politicians of his age are slowly receding from the public arena. Increasingly, Israel needs to deal with politicians that have hardly heard of Golda Meir and, frankly, don’t really care.