MIAMI BEACH (JTA) – I returned from the Democratic National Convention in Denver with the announcement of Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, the memorable acceptance speech by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and the announcement of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee.
It was the most momentous week of this, or perhaps any, election cycle.
Yet with all the excitement, I must admit that this last week has left me disappointed with our level of political discourse – particularly in the Jewish community. When the Biden vice-presidential nomination was announced on Aug. 23, Republican voices in the Jewish community called his selection by Senator Obama “risky” and talked about his inconsistent support for Israel and his “wrong” views on Iran.
These people must be talking about a different Joe Biden than the one I know.
I have known and worked closely with Senator Biden for more than 36 years, and the caricature that is being painted of him by some who value partisanship over truth is truly astounding. Perhaps even more distressing than the attacks on a good friend of the Jewish community is the use of the U.S.-Israel relationship as a partisan wedge issue.
Joe Biden publicly labels himself a Zionist. He has stated that “I do not accept the notion of linkage between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict,” according to JTA. “[Biden] has a sterling voting record on pro-Israel issues and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has helped shepherd through key pro-Israel legislation.” He has worked cooperatively with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir. His knowledge of the wider Middle East, as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict, is unsurpassed by any other member of Congress.
Republicans have not let these facts get in the way. They use votes not related to Israel in an effort to besmirch Biden in the Jewish community. Supporters of Senator Biden can readily go to the voting record files and show that he has a significantly higher percentage of pro-Israel votes than Sen. John McCain. We, too, could take some obscure issues to try to argue that the GOP nominee is insufficiently pro-Israel. The fact of the matter is that John McCain is pro-Israel. Barack Obama is pro-Israel. Joe Biden is pro-Israel. These attempts to use the U.S.-Israel relationship for partisan purposes distorts the truth and weakens the bipartisan consensus behind support for Israel in this country.
Moreover, it is not just Israel upon which we should judge Sen. Joe Biden. Perhaps no politician in America, Jew or non-Jew, has a better rapport with Jewish leadership and Jewish audiences. He is a strong supporter of the separation of church and state, and he has opposed Republican attempts to return prayer to the public schools. Biden also has opposed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in the public schools and is pro-choice.
Biden’s profile in the Jewish community is starkly different from that of McCain’s nominee for vice president. Sarah Palin has no foreign policy experience and has never visited Israel. She is against a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape and incest. She favors teaching intelligent design in the public schools and believes climate change is not caused by human activity.
I have long believed that the game of trying to show that friends of Israel are really enemies is destructive to our community’s interest. But it really hits home when a close friend like Joe Biden is vilified after all these years of friendship with our community. In these times, it seems that some people would charge Yitzhak Rabin with being anti-Israel if he ran for office as a Democrat.
It would be far healthier for American democracy, as well as for our community, if we would reject the use of Israel as a partisan issue and look at the policy areas where candidates from the two major parties truly do differ.
(Michael Adler is the immediate past chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council and was the national finance chair of Sen. Joe Biden’s last presidential campaign.)