WASHINGTON – Vice President Joseph Biden offered a forceful defense of Israel’s security posture at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference on Sunday night, delivering what is likely his last speech to the group after a 30-year career in public service drew him close to the pro-Israel organization.
The speech, before a record crowd of 18,000 in the capital’s Verizon Center stadium, included several lines that drew standing ovations from the crowd – perhaps none more so than the vice president’s admonition of Palestinian leadership for its failure to condemn a months-long spate of stabbings, vehicular attacks and shootings of Israeli and American civilians by Palestinian terrorists.
“No leader has the right to tolerate terrorism,” Biden said. “There is no excuse for remaining silent.”
Biden’s visit to Israel earlier this month was marked by such violence: The murder of Taylor Force, an American veteran, just blocks away from where he was conducting business and where his family was dining in Jaffa.
“We could hear the sirens,” he said, adding: “I condemn the failure to condemn those atrocious acts of violence.”
By declaring that terrorism is terrorism, “plain and simple,” he was placing some distance between himself and the original reaction of the administration’s secretary of state, John Kerry, who in October suggested the spree of violence could amount to frustration over Israel’s settlement activity.
“There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years,” Kerry said at Harvard at the time, when the attacks picked up in pace, “and now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing.”
While he expressed disappointment with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Israel’s “steady and systematic” settlement activity in the West Bank – a policy gap that he acknowledged as wellknown, before swiftly moving on to matters of agreement – Biden did say that several key points of alignment between Israel and the Arab world offer some hope for peace.
There is widespread agreement for the first time in years “that Iran’s destabilizing activities are a concern for the entire region,” he said.
That understanding has built trust between Israel and the Arab world in an extraordinarily short period – less than five years, the vice president noted.
And the rise of Islamic State has also presented Israel and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council with an opportunity to share intelligence against a shared menace: Islamic extremism. Biden suggested that cooperation could soon span to other spheres.
AIPAC is holding its first annual policy conference since it lost a bruising battle against the Obama administration over its nuclear deal with Iran, reached last summer and implemented against Israel’s strong objections. Biden defended the deal, stating that it will successfully prevent Iran from “ever” obtaining nuclear arms.
But the CEO of AIPAC, Howard Kohr, opened the conference’s first general session on Sunday night by asserting the lobby’s fight over Iran is not quite over yet.
“We have every reason to be proud of our work – to have fought the right fight,” Kohr said, adding the deal has “delayed” Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity – not dismantled it, as advertised.
Acknowledging his long history with the organization – and with Israel itself – Biden recounted some of his favorite stories that capture his admiration of the Jewish state. He waxed once again over his interactions with prime minister Golda Meir as a youthful senator, and said – as he has countless times before – that if Israel didn’t exist, the world would have to build one.
“The future belongs to the bridge builders, not the wall builders,” Biden said, in an unsubtle reference to the rhetoric of GOP presidential front-runner, Donald J. Trump. “Why does AIPAC exist? It exists t o build bridges.”