Vice President Joe Biden delivered a passionate defense Sunday of President Barack Obama’s policy toward Israel and took a direct shot at Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s divisive and polarizing rhetoric.
Biden, speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference in Washington, where Trump is expected to appear Monday, didn’t mention the billionaire businessman by name. But it was clear that he was speaking of Trump when he condemned those political candidates who seek to divide Americans.
“As the Jewish people know better than any other people, any action that marginalizes one religious or ethnic group imperils us all,” Biden said to loud applause from the crowd of more than 18,000. “It is incumbent on all of us to stand up against those who traffic in pernicious stereotypes, who seek to scare and divide us for political gain, because the future belongs to the bridge builders, not the wall builders.”
Trump called for a wall on the United States’ southern border and said that many Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.
The vice president’s remarks offer a window into the line of attack the Obama administration will use if Trump becomes the Republican nominee later this year.
Trump’s appearance before the pro-Israel group has been a subject of controversy. In a preview of his speech, the candidate said Sunday that he would press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to forge a peace deal with the Palestinians.
“A deal would be in Israel’s interests,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week,” insisting that “there is nobody more pro-Israel than I am.”
“I don’t know one Jewish person that doesn’t want to have a deal,” he said. “If I win, I’m going to be giving that a very good shot.”
Most of Biden’s remarks focused on the U.S.-Israel relationship. He began by discussing the controversial Iran deal, which was still being negotiated during last year’s conference.
The vice president spoke of Iranian centrifuges that have been removed, enriched uranium that has been shipped out of the country and a new inspections regime for Iran’s nuclear facilities. “To put it simply, Iran is much, much further away . . . from obtaining a nuclear weapon than they were a year ago,” Biden said.
The vice president’s remarks come at time of heightened tensions between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. Earlier this month, Netanyahu surprised the White House when he canceled a trip to Washington that was supposed to coincide with AIPAC’s annual meeting.
Obama and Netanyahu have long had a difficult relationship, sharply disagreeing over the president’s calls for Israel stop settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem and the president’s dogged pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu insisted that the deal designed to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon doesn’t do enough to dismantle the country’s nuclear program and ensure that it won’t someday develop the capability to build a nuclear bomb.
Biden sought to ease those the fears of AIPAC members, many of whom backed Netanyahu and staunchly opposed the deal.
“Iran will never be allowed to pursue nuclear weapons,” he said. “Never, never never.”
Biden acknowledged that there was insufficient political will on either the Israeli or Palestinian side for peace talks and called on Netanyahu to stop continued expansion in the occupied territories.
“To be frank, Israel’s steady and systematic process of expanding settlements is eroding the prospect of a two-state solution,” Biden said. “This cannot continue to erode. I know that is a message that is not particularly welcome here.”
The speech at AIPAC marks a high-profile week for Biden, who on Thursday plans to make a forceful call at Georgetown University Law Center for the Senate to confirm the pending nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
“The Constitution states it plainly and clearly,” Biden writes in a online posting set to be published Monday morning and shared in advance with The Washington Post. “All 100 senators have a duty to provide advice and consent on nominees, and help determine who sits on our nation’s highest court. . . . The full United States Senate must be able to work its will.”
Biden has become a prominent figure in the battle over filling the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month. Within days, Republican senators seized on a lengthy 1992 speech that Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had delivered on the Senate floor, arguing against the consideration of any Supreme Court nominee in that election year.
In the posting, Biden writes that, in the speech Thursday, he will “speak squarely to my colleagues in the Senate.”
“Take a look at the argument you’re making here,” he writes. “Consider, truly, whether it’s good for the American people and the country.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Greg Jaffe