Biden works to assure Jewish activists of Barack Obama's pro-Israel stance

US VP nominee defends running mate's stated interest in talking to the Iranians.

September 24, 2008 23:14
3 minute read.
Biden works to assure Jewish activists of Barack Obama's pro-Israel stance

Biden stresses point 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Appearing before leading Jewish Democratic activists here Tuesday night, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden began by recalling an incident involving the Yeshiva University rowing team. The team, for some reason, was always getting walloped by the Harvard squad, so the YU coach sent a rower to spy on Harvard to learn their trick. As soon as he caught a glimpse of his rival's practice, he called his coach with the answer. "The secret is they've got eight guys rowing and only one yelling," Biden related to laughter from the audience at the National Jewish Democratic Council annual conference. But while Biden's delivery might have been humorous, his point was serious. "The truth is, that's what we've got to do this election," he said, stressing the need to come together following a divisive primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He also referenced the "pretty successful smear campaign" against Obama, as viral e-mails attacking the Democratic presidential nominee as a closet Muslim who opposes Israel continue to circulate in some segments of the Jewish community. In some cases, that has translated into less support for Obama than most Democratic candidates enjoy from this overwhelmingly Democratic constituency. In an acknowledgement that the campaign hasn't fully resolved that issue, Biden followed up his joke with a recitation of his Israel bona fides - which include having met then prime minister Golda Meir on his first trip to Israel and having pushed pro-Israel legislation - as well as vouching for Obama's. "My support for Israel begins in my stomach, goes to my heart and ends up in my head," he declared. "I promise you, I guarantee you, I guarantee you, I would not have joined Barack Obama's campaign as vice president if I had any doubt, even the slightest doubt, that he shared the same commitment to Israel that I share." "He wants that message to go out with these people being his voice," explained Michael Adler, a former NJDC chair who headed Biden's national finance effort during his own presidential run. He referred to the "unfortunate" need for Biden and others to counter the "ridiculous propaganda" questioning Obama's support of Israel and his own background. "When you scare elderly people by saying he's bad for Israel, he's a Muslim, the [more] you need to have Senator Biden and people in this room go on the offensive," said Adler, referring to Jewish voters in his home state of Florida. "They will not vote because they have been barraged with misinformation." Adler felt Biden had helped make the case, noting he traveled with the vice presidential nominee when he visited southern Florida Jewish communities earlier in the month. "There's a real sense in the Jewish community that he is just adding to the ticket," Adler said, referring to Biden's history of ties to the population and record on Israel. Biden spoke little about Middle East policy in his remarks Tuesday, however, focusing more on the financial situation and the need for change in these elections. He did, though, call on his audience to "imagine a president who won't wait until his seventh year in office to discover the need for American leadership in the Middle East peace process, who will call on Arab states now to begin normalizing relations with Israel, where there's consequences for their failure to do so." Speaking about Iraq, he also pledged, "We will end this war." On Wednesday in Ohio, though, Biden devoted a large portion of a major foreign policy address to the issue of Iran, which he said "poses a genuine challenge to the security of the United States and Israel and our allies." He defended Obama's stated interest in talking to the Iranians, noting that five former US secretaries of state recently made a similar recommendation. "Our allies need to know that the United States will go the extra diplomatic mile," he said. "And if we do and Iran does not respond, our allies are much more likely to stand with us if diplomacy fails and move toward more robust sanctions and possibly even other alternatives." On Tuesday, Biden wasn't only politician to appeal to the NJDC audience with a joke. The crowd also heard from Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live comedian and talk show host who is running for the US Senate in Minnesota. He's in a tight race against fellow Jewish candidate Norm Coleman, a Republican, for a seat that previously belonged to Paul Wellstone and Rudy Boschwitz, who were also both Jewish. In making his appeal to the audience, Franken told them, "I've made the argument that Minnesota is just not ready for a gentile in the Senate."

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