WASHINGTON (JTA) — Now that the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination in America is narrowing to a two-person race, the case for Joe Biden is even more compelling and urgent. I have known and worked with him since he entered the U.S. Senate more than 40 years ago, and then as vice president. From the start of this tortuous political contest, I never had any doubt that he deserves the overwhelming support of the American Jewish community.
Joe Biden has worked tirelessly with American Jewish organizations for tikkun olam, making our country and the world a better place and to combat growing anti-Semitism on the left and the right. As a senator, he was a champion for women’s rights, leading the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and for the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. He has been a strong supporter of civil rights for minorities, from the Voting Rights Act to marriage equality for LGBTQ individuals. He has been a leader against gun violence, twice successfully taking on the National Rifle Association.
As vice president, he was a key figure in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which extended health care benefits to millions of need Americans, now seeking to expand it with a Medicare option, and in defending it against the far right and Donald Trump and from the far left led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, now his principal opponent for the nomination.
From the beginning of his public career, Biden has understood the unique threats facing Israel. His first foreign trip as senator was to Israel in 1973 shortly before the Yom Kippur War, where he met with Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. He was a fervent advocate for resupplying Israel with arms after the first devastating Arab attacks against Israel seriously weakened its defenses.
That early experience speaks volumes about why he told the recent AIPAC Policy Conference that he knows “Israelis wake up every morning facing an existential threat from their neighbors — a rain of rockets from Gaza just this past week, threats and missiles from Iran and Hezbollah — Israelis live each day with tremendous courage.” As vice president, he was a key supporter for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile and a key architect of the landmark $38 billion 10-year defense program for Israel, the highest ever reached.
The next president must be trusted by both the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians, which Biden emphasized to AIPAC “is the best way to assure a secure and peaceful future for a Jewish and democratic State of Israel.” In negotiating with Israel during the Carter and Clinton Administrations, I learned it must have confidence that the president of the United States supports its interests. That is Joe Biden who told AIPAC, “Palestinians need to eradicate incitement in the West Bank and end the rocket attacks from Gaza. And they need to accept, once and for all, the reality and the right of a secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel in the Middle East.”
Even though Bernie Sanders worked briefly on a kibbutz as a young man, he can hardly be a trusted negotiator after boycotting the AIPAC conference (which he has never attended) and accusing it of giving a platform for “bigotry.” In last December’s Democratic debate he called the elected prime minister of Israel a “racist.” I have differences with Benjamin Netanyahu on his settlement policy, but such an epithet makes it impossible for Sanders to have any effective role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. These outbursts reflect his past positions. He has said he would use U.S. military assistance as leverage to block new settlements, and would even shift some of this military aid to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
In 2001, Sanders was in the distinct minority of members of Congress to oppose a resolution blaming the Second Intifada on Palestinian terrorism. I know from my own negotiations with Yasir Arafat that this was wrong. When I met Arafat in Ramallah in July of 2000 to report on our progress reducing Palestinian unemployment, he asked me to tell President Bill Clinton not to invite him to a summit with then Prime Minister Ehud Barak because he was not prepared to make compromises envisioned by Clinton that would have given the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as their capital. Arafat then incited the Intifada.
During the Gaza conflict in 2014, when Israel retaliated only after constant rocket attacks on southern Israel, Sanders declared that Israel had killed “over 10,000 innocent people.” This amounted to so many more casualties than even Hamas alleged that Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized Sanders for his gross exaggeration.
Finally, and critically important at a time when the U.S. is deeply polarized, Joe Biden is a healer and a uniter. He stands for the best values of Judaism and our country, and he can reach out to independents and moderate Republicans. With Bernie Sanders we risk not only more division in our country through his appeal for a revolution on the left but also weaken the Democratic Party’s move toward cohesive strength to keep control of the House of Representatives, win back control of the Senate, and defeat President Donald Trump.