Biden in Israel: You don't need to be a Jew to be a Zionist

The president stressed his "deep and ongoing commitment" to a two-state solution.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during an arrival ceremony at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, July 13, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during an arrival ceremony at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, July 13, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

US President Joe Biden reaffirmed his Zionism and the strong ties between the US and Israel in his remarks upon landing in Israel on Wednesday.

“You need not be a Jew to be Zionist,” he said, repeating past comments to which Prime Minister Yair Lapid referred in his remarks at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The two-day visit to Israel is Biden’s 10th, but his first as president.

Remarking on his first trip to Israel in 1973, during which he met then-prime minister Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin, who later became prime minister, Biden said he had “the great honor of living part of the great history of this great country.”

“Every chance to return to this great country, where the ancient roots of the Jewish people date back to biblical times, is a blessing,” he said. “The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep, and generation after generation that connection grows. We invest in each other. We dream together.”

“The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep, and generation after generation that connection grows as we invest in each other and dream together.”

Joe Biden

Biden spoke of the US and Israel partnering on “the most cutting-edge defense systems in the world,” shortly before he went to a presentation by the Defense Ministry that included an Iron Dome battery and the laser-based Iron Beam missile-defense system.

“We will continue to advance Israel’s integration in the region [and] expand emerging forms and engagements, like the new I2U2 summit” of Israel, the US, India and the United Arab Emirates, whose leaders are set to convene via video link on Thursday “to deepen the economic cooperation between the Middle East and Indo-Pacific,” he said.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, July 13, 2022 (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, July 13, 2022 (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Biden said he would also discuss his “continued support – even though I know it’s not in the near term – [for] a two-state solution. That remains, in my view, the best way to ensure the future of equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Biden spoke of his strong connection to Israel and the Jewish people going back to his childhood, when his father, a “righteous Christian,” told him and his siblings about the Holocaust and “imbued in us a sense of obligation.”

During his visit to Yad Vashem, Biden said he would “honor the six million Jewish lives stolen in the genocide and continue what we must do every day, to bear witness... and honor those we lost so that we never forget that lesson.”

Biden at Yad Vashem 

Donning a kippah, Biden later rekindled the Eternal Flame and laid a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem. He became visibly emotional when he met with Holocaust survivors Rena Quint and Giselle “Gita” Cycowicz and kneeled in front of them so that they did not have to stand while they spoke for more than 10 minutes.

Biden wrote in the Yad Vashem guest book: “We must never, ever, forget because hate is never defeated. It only hides. We must teach every successive generation that it can happen again unless we remember. That is what I teach my children and grandchildren. Never forget.”

Biden did not mention Iran, but both President Isaac Herzog and Lapid did in their brief remarks, saying they planned to ask Biden to put a credible military threat on the table in their meetings with him.

“In this visit, you will discuss the security challenges emanating directly from Iran and its proxies, threatening Israel and its neighbors and endangering our region,” Herzog said.

Lapid called for a “global coalition to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”

Herzog hailed Biden as “a true friend and staunch supporter of Israel and the Jewish people, of our security and well-being, your entire life.”

“Your first trip here in 1973 was just a few weeks before a terrible war broke out,” he said. “Today, winds of peace are blowing from North Africa across the Mediterranean to the Gulf. This trip, Mr. President, is your journey of peace from Israel to Saudi Arabia, from the Holy Land to the Hejaz.”

The greater Middle East context

Biden is scheduled to fly from Israel to Saudi Arabia on Friday and to announce an agreement between the countries involving security arrangements in the Strait of Tiran and authorizing Israeli overflights in Saudi airspace, as well as possibly allowing limited direct flights from Israel for Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Lapid called Biden “one of the best friends Israel has ever known” and referred to him calling himself a Zionist in the past.

He expressed “the simple genuine joy brought by seeing a good friend once again.”

“You will see how Israel has grown and developed, see the strength and smartness of the Israeli Army, the creativity of the Start-Up Nation and the diversity of Israeli society,” Lapid said.

After the official ceremony, Lapid was caught on mic joking with Biden: “Eight years ago, we met at your office when you were vice president. You said to me that if you had my hair, you would be president of the US, and I said that if I had your height, I would be prime minister of Israel.”

“Eight years ago, we met at your office when you were vice president. You said to me that if you had my hair, you would be president of the US, and I said that if I had your height, I would be prime minister of Israel.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid to US President Joe Biden

Among the 15 officials joining Biden on Air Force One were US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger and State Department Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein.

Biden and Lapid are expected to hold a meeting on Thursday morning, followed by a press conference and the video meeting of the I2U2 forum.

Herzog will then host Biden for a ceremony at which the latter will receive the Presidential Medal of Honor. Biden is scheduled to meet with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu for 15 minutes at the President’s Residence.

Later Thursday, Biden, Lapid and Herzog plan to make an appearance at the Maccabiah Games.

Biden plans to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, as well as visit Augusta Victoria Hospital in east Jerusalem.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel and the US announced a strategic partnership in advanced technology, which Lapid said “puts Israel at the forefront of global innovation and solidifies its status as a leading technological power.”

“Our vision for one million [Israelis working] in hi-tech begins with international cooperation that will bring new opportunities for the hi-tech sector in Israel,” he said.

The Strategic High-Level Dialogue on Technology will be established by the national security advisers and focus on strategic technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, solutions to climate change and pandemic preparedness.

The goal of the joint declaration is to express the special relationship between the US and Israel and position Israel as the leading ally of the US in the field of technology. The first meeting of the dialogue is set to take place in Israel in the coming months.

The US has similar partnerships with the UK, Australia and Japan in the fields of AI and quantum computing.