Among the many personal connections Vice President Joe Biden has made in the Jewish community, he holds that of Elie Wiesel close to his heart. The Holocaust survivor, author, activist and professor said something that has stuck with Biden for a long time.
“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Wiesel told Biden, who recalled the encounter during a speech before Jewish community officials Monday. Those words have inspired Biden in how he teaches his family about the Holocaust, and have provided a foundation to his foreign policy in regards to Israel and Iran, said Biden.
The vice president spoke at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly after being introduced by Holocaust survivor and advocate Nesse Godin.
Biden, one of several Democrats among a slate of presidential hopefuls who could be on the ballot in 2016, began by referencing his early connections to the Jewish community, including campaigning for the Delaware state Senate out of the Wilmington JCC. His unwavering support for the Jewish community began at age 13, he said, when he learned about the Holocaust at the family dinner table.
“[I was] never fully understanding why there was even a debate in the Jewish community about why there should be a state of Israel,” he said.
He now teaches his children similar lessons, and has taken all three of them to Europe for their 15th birthdays with the first stop being the Dachau concentration camp in Germany “to not only show them what man and humanity is capable of but also more importantly to let them witness the incredible resilience of the human spirit,” Biden said.
He credited Jewish federations across the United States with continuing to bear witness, something he said is getting harder as the Holocaust becomes more distant.
“Silence is never acceptable,” he said.
To that end, Biden is working to address the needs of Holocaust survivors in America, 25 percent of whom live below the federal poverty line, he said, and has held hearings about anti-Semitism in Europe despite criticism. He noted that anti-Semitic speech all too often gets disguised as opposition to Israeli policies.
“Too often in too many countries, opposition to Israel’s military operation crosses the line,” he said. “The president and I stand with you. … We make it clear that Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter of debate. It is not negotiable.”
Biden said he and President Barack Obama will continue to support Israel’s security, something he sees as necessary for the security of the United States.
“Were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent one. It’s more than an obligation we have, it’s a security necessity,” he said. “We will never, ever, abandon Israel out of our own self-interest.”
As he spoke of Israel, which he said has no friend like the U.S., and vice-versa, he turned to Iran, and used the opportunity to refute critics of the Obama administration’s overtures to Tehran to achieve a deal on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
“I’ve heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran, let me say to you clearly in a ‘Biden-esque’ way: we will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. Period,” he said.
He assured the audience that as the Nov. 24 deadline for signing a nuclear agreement approaches, the U.S. will not sign a bad deal.
Of course no discussion of Israel’s security would be complete without addressing the ongoing conflict with Palestinians. While Biden said part of securing Israel’s safety includes a two-state solution, he also sees opportunity for Israel and its Arab neighbors to battle emerging and longtime common threats together. And he is hopeful that it could change the political landscape of the Middle East.
“Israel and nearly all its Arab neighbors … find themselves on the same side in a fight against violent Islamist extremists like [the so-called Islamic State] as well as a regional struggle against Iran,” he explained. “They have all this in common and shame on us if we are not as nimble and as capable as our grandparents taking advantage of this.”