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May 20, 2020 6:23 am

Biden Warns Netanyahu Against Annexation, Denounces Antisemitism on the Left

avatar by Ira Stoll

Former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mike Blake.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Joe Biden, is warning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against moving to annex the West Bank, but says he would stop short of withdrawing support for Israel if Netanyahu went ahead with the move.

The remarks came during a “virtual” fundraiser for the Biden campaign that was hosted by former president Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, and a professor at Emory University, Deborah Lipstadt. Both are widely respected and well liked in the mainstream American Jewish community.

According to a pool report of the event by Allie Raffa of Fox News that was distributed to reporters by the Biden campaign, Biden said Israel needs to “stop the threat of annexation … because it’ll choke off any hope of peace.”

Biden said, in an apparent reference to the two-state solution: “We have to continue to fight for the right of both states to exist. It’s possible, we came close, and we have to try it again, but without walking away from Israel saying no more help, we’re not going to defend you.”

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The question of annexation is a live one in Israel at the moment, with some elements in the newly-formed coalition government arguing that the Jewish state should move rapidly to consolidate control over the strategically important Jordan Valley or Jewish settlement blocs. The idea is that President Donald Trump would be far more favorably disposed to such a move than Biden would be, and that Israel should get it done now in case Trump loses the US presidential election that is scheduled for November. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned that an annexation would cause a “massive conflict” with Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel. And some American pro-Israel analysts, such as Daniel Pipes, have said annexation could backfire. The Trump administration has officially expressed openness to the idea if it is in the context of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which have been nonexistent for some time, at least on a public level.

Lipstadt, who is known for taking on British Holocaust denier David Irving, asked Biden how the Jewish community can respond to antisemitism on the left.

“Criticism of Israel’s policy is not antisemitism, but too often that criticism from the left morphs into antisemitism … arguably, we haven’t heard enough about the Holocaust because people are still trying to deny its horrible reality,” Biden said, according to the pool report. “We have to keep talking about it … so many people forget, it’s almost hard to believe.”

According to the pool report, Biden said the first overseas trip he has taken his children and grandchildren on has been to Dachau, a concentration camp near Munich, Germany.

“We have to keep teaching the stories of the Holocaust horrors. … I’m going to take the rest of my grandchildren. I want them to see with their own eyes,” he added.

Biden said he would increase funding for law enforcement to protect places of worship and direct the Justice Department to prioritize prosecution of hate crimes if elected.

In response to a question from Shapiro, Biden said, “My commitment to Israel is absolutely unshakable,” committing to helping Israel maintain its “qualitative military edge.” Biden added that he would “hold Iran accountable” and use “renewed diplomacy with our allies to strengthen and extend the Iran deal.”

Biden said he has a good relationship with Netanyahu that has spanned over 40 years, but expressed disappointment in what he said was the prime minister’s “move so, so far to the right.”

Asked how to garner bipartisan support for Israel, Biden said he thinks the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats believe in Israel’s right to exist as an independent state, but faulted “Trump and his allies” who he said “have tried to use this relationship as a political football and it harms our country’s interests.”

The Trump campaign has sought in recent days to portray Biden as hostile to Israel, emphasizing an endorsement that Biden received from J Street, a left-leaning American advocacy group. This event, along with an event Monday that Biden foreign policy aide Tony Blinken hosted with the Mark Mellman-led Democratic Majority for Israel, position Biden more in the traditional Democratic Party mainstream. Polls show American Jews usually lean Democratic in presidential elections. Trump has hoped to make inroads in battleground states such as Florida with large Jewish populations, partly on the basis of his record of keeping campaign promises from 2016 on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and exiting the Iran nuclear deal.

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