Two Vice Presidential Visits to Israel — One Big Difference
JNS.org – Anybody who watched Vice President Mike Pence’s address to the Knesset had to be deeply impressed by his heartfelt solidarity with Israel. His repeated pledges of support for the Jewish state were authentic and unwavering.
Unlike the previous president, who seemed to think the Jews took an interest in Eretz Yisrael only because of the Holocaust, Pence did not shy away from affirming the Jewish people’s ancient ties to the land of Israel.
Watching Pence’s address, I could not help but recall the very different actions of the last vice president who visited Israel.
Joe Biden visited Israel in March 2010. Almost exactly at the moment that Biden was speaking at a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “somebody” leaked to the press that the Israeli government supposedly had just announced plans to build 1,600 Jewish homes in “occupied East Jerusalem.”
In fact, it was not some new plan, but an unexceptional housing construction project that had been slowly winding its way through the Israeli bureaucracy for years. The Israeli government did not make some grand “announcement” at the moment of Biden’s visit; the old plan just happened to advance slightly through the normal bureaucratic procedures.
The plan was not for 1,600 “homes,” which sounds as if Israel was going to build 1,600 separate houses. It was for 1,600 apartments in apartment buildings, meaning that it would take up less than one-tenth of the land that houses would require. In any event, nobody would be displaced by the new apartments; they were in Ramat Shlomo, an existing Jewish neighborhood in Israel’s capital of Jerusalem.
But of course, the Obama-Biden administration, unlike the current US government, did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. So, even apartments in the uncontroversial Ramat Shlomo neighborhood were suddenly branded “illegal Israeli settlements.”
TIME magazine declared that Israel had “publicly humiliated” Biden. An article in The Atlantic was headlined “Israel Humiliates Joe Biden.” And so it went, a carefully choreographed “crisis” that sure sounded a lot like the infamous “echo chamber” that presidential aide Ben Rhodes later boasted about creating to promote the Iran deal. We may never know who leaked the Jerusalem “news” to the press, but I have my suspicions.
The only actual humiliation that took place was when Biden forced Israel to publicly apologize, even though it had done nothing wrong. The ugly episode would, of course, be followed by many other instances in which the president, vice president, secretary of state or other Obama administration officials chastised Israel or leaked anti-Israel accusations to the press.
Friends of Israel have not yet forgotten Biden’s deeply disturbing decision to honor J Street by addressing its national conference in 2016. Legitimizing a group whose only purpose is to undermine Israel’s positions was bad enough. But in his address, Biden outrageously accused Israel of being the obstacle to peace, because of what he called “the steady and systematic expansion of settlements.”
Yes, that was the accusation made by the vice president whose administration had successfully pressured Israel into freezing Jewish housing construction for 10 months, in exchange for an unfulfilled US promise that the Palestinians would resume negotiations.
Now contrast that vice president with his successor: “We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight,” Mike Pence said in the Knesset. “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny. We stand with Israel because that’s what Americans have always done, and so has it been since my country’s earliest days.”
He might have added “except between 2008 and 2016” to that last sentence. The sad truth is that “standing with Israel” was not the policy of the Obama-Biden administration. But it is now, and that’s what matters most.
Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.