Biden’s ties to Israel are woven into his long career

Published date31 October 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator, spotted them and approached. “I know why I’m here,” Ross said. “Why are you here?”

“This,” Biden responded without missing a beat, “is exactly when I should be here.”

Biden’s staunch support for Israel in a time of crisis is no recent phenomenon. The shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity that he has demonstrated in the three weeks since the bloody Hamas terrorist attack has its roots in more than half a century of affinity for the Jewish state; it transcends scripted talking points and has become deeply personal. Other presidents have spoken the words. Biden gives every impression that he feels it in his bones.

For a devout Catholic from a state with relatively few Jews, Biden might seem like an unlikely champion of Israel. But his views were shaped by dinner-table conversations with a father who decried the Holocaust and stories told by an aide who had survived the death camps. Some confidants say that Biden’s Irish heritage makes him relate to the plight of historically marginalised people and that his own family tragedy connects him to the grief of those who have lost so much.

‘The only Catholic Jew’

Over the course of his career, he has travelled to Israel seven times as a senator, three times as vice-president and now twice as US president. He has met every prime minister since Golda Meir. His passion for the Jewish state has been evident that a fellow senator years ago called him “the only Catholic Jew”. A long-time Israeli official more recently called him “the first Jewish president”. He embraces Jewish nationalism. “You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” he often says.

Now, as the secretary of state, Blinken is once again at Biden’s side as they make a point of showing up for Israel – physically during a trip to Tel Aviv within range of Hamas rockets and politically in the form of support after the deadliest attack of its existence.

“This is something, as I’ve seen it and experienced it, that goes in a sense from his gut to his heart to his head,” Blinken says of Biden in a phone interview. “There’s something, as I’ve been able to witness it, that seems more visceral for him.”

That does not mean that Biden has not experienced periods of friction with Israeli leaders, most notably prime...

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