Biden's favorite Israel story

For AIPAC speech, the vice president retold a tale he has told at least once before.

By
March 6, 2013 02:13
US Vice President Joe Biden at Conference on Security Policy in Munich, February 2, 2013.

Joe Biden at Conference on Security Policy in Munich 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Michael Dalder)

It was vintage Joe Biden. The speech the US vice president delivered to some 13,000 AIPAC supporters on Monday was warm, it was long, it was rambling, it had humor and pathos, and it brought in his parents.

The speech struck a chord with many in the crowd because in it, Biden did something that US President Barack Obama has not yet been able to do: He made those listening feel that he not only likes Israel, but loves it, and loves it special. He made those listening feel that his connection to the country was different from his connection to other strong US allies, say, South Korea or Australia.

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Critics of Obama’s Israel policies argue that one of the American president’s biggest problems is that he has never adequately hugged Israel, an insecure nation desperately looking for a warm embrace from its big brother – not only so the country itself feels the affection, but so others see that it is loved by someone big and strong.

At AIPAC, Biden not only hugged Israel with his warm rhetoric, he planted a smooch on its lips right there in the public square, for all to see.

And one way he did this was with anecdotes. The most heimish was his telling of the first time he met former prime minister Golda Meir. It was an anecdote he used at the end of his speech, a powerful one that elicited strong applause.

It was also one he used three years ago – with many of the same images and words – during a speech to an Israeli audience at Tel Aviv University. That was the “no hard feelings speech,” the one that came at the tail end of his disastrous visit during which Israel announced new construction in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.

Public figures give innumerable speeches, and invariably weave into them material they have used before. But Biden’s recycling of the Meir anecdote – at a distance of three years – leaves one with the feeling that somewhere in his Washington office is a file titled “good personal stories to tell a pro-Israel audience,” and that this particular tale with Meir is out there in the very front, ever ready for use.


The two speeches:

Biden's speech at Tel Aviv University, March 11, 2010
My very first meeting in Israel was maybe the one that I carry closest to my heart.  My first meeting in Israel -- I was invited by a woman named Golda Meir, who I admired from afar as millions of Americans did …

And I remember walking into her office as a young senator being literally in awe as she was so gracious the way she accepted me and gave me a hug more like my mother would, sat down behind her desk and while chain-smoking -- she had a series of maps behind her.  And there were six or seven maps.  She kept flipping the maps up and down, and explaining to me what exactly had happened in the Six-Day War.

And there was a young man sitting next to me, a guy named Yitzhak Rabin, who I met for the first time.  And as she pulled those maps up and down, educating this young senator as to the -- to the threat that this young nation of Israel was facing, I guess she could see the sense of apprehension on my face. 

And I was concerned.  I guess it showed in my face.  I was concerned that surrounded by the neighbors who denied the very right of the nation to exist, how were you going to do this?  The Prime Minister caught me off guard.  After about an hour and a half, she looked at me and she said. “Senator, would you like a photo opportunity?”  And I thought, what the hell is a photo opportunity?  And I said, “Well, yes, Madam Prime Minister.”  We opened those double doors and we walked out into the ending room of her office and there was a lot of press there -- a lot, half a dozen photographers and cameras.  (Laughter.)

… And while looking straight ahead, she talked to me without turning her head.  She said, “Senator, don’t look so worried.”  She said -- I said, “Well I am, Madam President, and because I just had this hour and a half.”  And she said -- she said, “We Israelis have a secret weapon.”  And I thought she only had said this to me, no one else in the whole world.  She said, “We have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs.”  And I thought she was going to tell me about a new secret weapon.  And I found myself turning and looking at her, and the press -- because this was all just a stand-up photo opportunity.  And she said, “We have a secret weapon.  We have nowhere else to go.”

Biden's speech at AIPAC, March 2013
… When I was a young senator making my first trip to Israel. I had the great, great honor — and that is not hyperbole — of getting to meet for the first time — and subsequently, I met her beyond that — Golda Meir. She was the prime minister.
… the first trip I ever made — and you all know those double doors. You just go into the office and the blonde furniture and the desk on the left side, if memory serves me correctly. And Golda Meir, as a prime minister and as a defense minister, she had those maps behind her. You could pull down all those maps like you had in geography class in high school.

And she sat behind her desk. And I sat in a chair in front of her desk, and a young man was sitting to my right who was her assistant. His name was Yitzhak Rabin. Seriously — an absolutely true story.  And she sat there chain-smoking and reading letters to me, letters from the front from the Six-Day War. She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family. This went on for I don’t know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it — oh, my God.

And she suddenly looked at me and said — and I give you my word as a Biden that she looked at me and said — she said, Senator, would you like a photo opportunity? And I looked at her. I said, well yes, Madam Prime Minister. I mean I was — and we walk out those doors. We stood there — no statements, and we’re standing next to one another looking at this array of media, television and photojournalists, take — snapping pictures. And we’re looking straight ahead.

Without looking at me, she speaks to me. She said, Senator, don’t look so sad. She said, we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world. And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something. Because you can see the pictures, I still have them — I turned to look at her. We were supposed to be looking straight ahead. And I said, Madam Prime Minister — and never turned her head, she kept looking — she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go. We have no place else to go.


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