Biden backs Israel, criticizes AIPAC

"It's not for us to tell Israel what to do," Democratic VP candidate tells Post when asked about Iran.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit:)
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden said Wednesday that Israel should be able to take whatever action it feels necessary to defend itself from Iran, pressing his Israel credentials even as he lashed out at AIPAC and those who have criticized his record toward the Jewish state. "Israel has an absolute right to defend itself. It doesn't have to ask us," Biden, a Delaware senator and Barack Obama's running mate, said in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post during a conference call with Jewish media. Biden was in Florida stumping for Jewish votes while the Republican National Convention took place in this Midwestern city. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, who was set to accept the nomination to be the GOP vice presidential candidate after press time Wednesday, visited with AIPAC members here to reassure them of her commitment to Israel. Recent reports from Washington have suggested that some members of the Bush administration were urging Israel not to attack Iran over its growing nuclear program. When asked whether an Obama administration would support Israel if it felt such action was necessary, Biden said, "It's not a question for us to tell Israel what they can and cannot do." Biden also harshly criticized those who have suggested he has an inconsistent record on Israel. The Republican Jewish Coalition has been broadcasting votes and resolutions in Congress that Biden did not support despite being backed in many cases by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "They think they know the Senate better than I do. They don't know the Senate better than I do," he said. Biden lashed out at those who would impugn his Israel credentials, saying, "I take a backseat to no one - including AIPAC - when it comes to supporting Israel." "They don't speak for the entire Jewish community. There are other organizations that are just as strong and consequential," he said. "AIPAC does not speak for the State of Israel." Biden pointed out that he had supported Israel in cases when it wasn't always popular - like defending its right to use cluster bombs in the 1980s - and that he has been recognized by many Jewish organizations for his support for the Jewish State. "Joe Biden is a strong supporter of the US-Israel relationship," said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block in response to Biden's statements. "He's been a staunch supporter of US aid to Israel, a leader in the fight against Palestinian terrorism and is a vocal advocate of the special relationship between the two democracies," he continued. "We look forward to continuing to work with him in the Senate or the White House," should he win. "Barack Obama and Joe Biden have both enjoyed close and effective cooperation with AIPAC over many years, grounded in their respect for its important mission to support Israel''s security and a strong US-Israel relationship," Obama spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said in a statement released later Wednesday. "That is a mission they share, and they look forward to continuing to work closely with AIPAC on their common goals." In the conference hall, Biden stressed that he and AIPAC shared the same goals but that differences on "tactics" had led him to not sign on to certain measures the Israel lobby has supported, such as the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to designate the Iran Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Biden described the group as a terrorist organization but said his opposition to the measure on the grounds that the Bush administration already had the authority to make such a designation, and that he was concerned backing the text would be interpreted by the White House as enabling a military confrontation with Iran. "This opened the door to an attack on Iran at a time when we were bogged down in Iraq," he explained. " I wasn't about to give them a pretext to go to war." Tougher sanctions and more engagement is needed in the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Biden said. At the same time, he argued that some of the rhetoric used against Iran wasn't helpful. "We have to stop making Iran into this 12-foot giant they are not," he said, adding that the more they were portrayed as such, "the more that we undercut our own self-interest." He also stated that an Obama administration would strive to be a "catalyst" for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would not oppose negotiations with Syria as the Bush administration had. He also urged a tougher line with Saudi Arabia, saying that if his party wins the presidential election, the kingdom would be pressured to take overt steps toward Israel. Those familiar with the closed-door meeting Palin held with AIPAC on Tuesday expressed satisfaction with the support and affection Palin had expressed for the Jewish state. The more than 30-minute meeting took place here amid her efforts to draft the speech which will introduce her to much of the American public, who like many in the pro-Israel community knew little about the Alaskan governor when she was tapped last week to be John McCain's running mate. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), who endorsed McCain at the GOP convention Tuesday night despite having been the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, also participated in Palin's meeting with AIPAC. "We had a good, productive discussion on the importance of the US-Israel relationship, and we were pleased that Governor Palin expressed her deep personal commitment to the safety and well-being of Israel," Block said. "Now that both the Democrats and the Republicans have determined their respective tickets, AIPAC is pleased that the parties have selected four pro-Israel candidates. In doing so, they have reaffirmed the broad, bipartisan support that exists in our country for a strong US-Israel relationship."