Vice President Joe Biden will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference (AIPAC) on Monday. As decorum demands, attendees will welcome him with applause; Democrats in the audience will clap more loudly. AIPAC’s leadership quietly boasts close relations with Biden, going back to his days in the Senate. Yet Biden’s role on Israel issues in the Obama administration makes his appearance at the conference puzzling.
In 2010, as the Policy Conference opened, Biden escalated a controversy between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over plans for apartment construction in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem that were announced during Biden’s visit to Israel. Instead of dealing with the issue quietly, as befits a relationship with an ally, Biden openly condemned the Israeli decision, damaging relations between the two sides for years.
More recently, Biden melted the phone lines in Washington by lobbying Senators personally to vote against a delay in the confirmation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. That effort came in the wake of a disastrous confirmation hearing for Hagel, in which he struggled to explain his views on Israel and Iran, and failed utterly to defend his earlier statements about the bullying of the “Jewish lobby,” partly a reference to AIPAC itself.
Given the movement of the Democratic Party away from traditional support for Israel, AIPAC’s policy of bipartisanship has become a race to the bottom in search of the lowest common pro-Israel denominator (i.e. votes on foreign aid). Biden has done nothing to stop his party’s slouch toward anti-Israel sentiment, and at times has driven it. The fact that AIPAC would even invite him to speak raises questions about its relevance.