Vice President Joe Biden sought to smooth over U.S.-Israeli relations Monday in an address to the the Jewish Federations of North America.
Nearly two weeks after a senior Obama administration official called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit” in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Biden attempted to play down the scuffles that have characterized the leaders’ relationship in recent months. He described the two countries’ rapport clearly in his signature, colloquial style.
“Like all close friends, we talk honestly to one another,” Biden said. “We disagree with one another. We love one another, and we drive one another crazy. That is what friends do.”
Biden joked that he once signed a picture for “Bibi” that said, “I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love ya.”
“We really are good friends,” Biden said of their relationship. “He has been a great, great friend.”
Biden reminded the Jewish community that the U.S. government remained committed to preserving Israel’s strength in a region where its mere existence is still threatened.
“We will never ever abandon Israel out of our own self-interests,” Biden said candidly.
As chatter circulates that the relationship between Israel and the United States is splintering, Biden cited the economic investments the Obama administration has made in the Jewish state, including a $3 billion investment earlier this year to help Israel build up its military presence. Biden called the administration’s contribution to Israel’s antimissile defense system, the Iron Dome, “the physical manifestation of President Obama and my position that Israel has a right to defend herself as we would.”
The relationship between the U.S. and Israel has been tenuous for some time, exacerbated by the Obama administration’s attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. Monday, Biden had to remind Israeli leaders that the U.S. is not seeking a negotiation with Iran at Israel’s expense.
“I have heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran,” Biden said. “We will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, period. I would not put my 42-year reputation on the line if I were not certain when I say it. We mean it.”
Netanyahu has been opposed to the diplomacy between Iran and the U.S. from the onset. In recent months, he’s escalated his rhetoric for his own political preservation, and The Atlanticreported that he threatened to bypass Obama and take any dissatisfaction he finds with an agreement straight to his allies on Capitol Hill.
The frustration, however, runs both ways. The Obama administration has been displeased with Netanyahu’s commitment to expanding settlements in East Jerusalem. The State Department has said that the prime minister’s actions undermine the potential for peace in the region.
Biden tiptoed around that controversy.
“It is so critical that as we work toward lasting peace, we also take steps to ensure that tensions don’t boil over,” Biden said.