Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.,* was born November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the first of four siblings. In 1953, the Biden family moved from Pennsylvania to Claymont, Delaware. He graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School.
He became an attorney in 1969 and was elected to the New Castle County Council in 1970. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 at age 29 becoming the sixth-youngest senator in American history. Just weeks after the election, tragedy struck the Biden family when Biden’s wife, Neilia and their one-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed and their two young sons critically injured in an auto accident. Vice President Biden was sworn in to the U.S. Senate at his sons’ hospital bedside and began commuting to Washington every day by train, a practice he maintained throughout his career in the Senate.
One of his first overseas visits as a senator was to Israel, on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War during which he met Golda Meir. “She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family. This went on for I don’t know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it.” The Prime Minister said, “Senator, don’t look so sad….we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world. And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something….she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go. We have no place else to go.”
In 1977, Biden married Jill Jacobs.
In 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with senators at the U.S. Capitol. Biden told him the expansion of West Bank settlements would endanger support for foreign aid to Israel. Begin reportedly said, “Don’t threaten us with slashing aid. Do you think that because the U.S. lends us money it is entitled to impose on us what we must do? We are grateful for the assistance we have received, but we are not to be threatened. I am a proud Jew. Three thousand years of culture are behind me, and you will not frighten me with threats.”
Biden was re-elected to the upper house of Congress six times and was the fourth most senior senator before resigning to assume the vice presidency in 2009.
As a Senator from Delaware for 36 years, Biden established himself as a leader in facing some of our nation’s most important domestic and international challenges. As Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 17 years, Senator Biden was widely recognized for his work on criminal justice issues, including the landmark 1994 Crime Act and the Violence Against Women Act. He was also in charge during the contentious U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
As Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, Biden opposed the Gulf War in 1991, but advocated U.S. and NATO intervention in the Bosnian War in 1994 and 1995. He voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the Iraq War in 2002 but opposed the surge of U.S. troops in 2007.
Biden unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and in 2008, both times dropping out after lackluster showings.
In 2008, Biden was chosen as the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. After being elected as the 47th Vice President of the United States, Biden oversaw infrastructure spending aimed at counteracting the Great Recession and helped formulate U.S. policy toward Iraq up until the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. His ability to negotiate with congressional Republicans helped the Obama administration pass legislation such as the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which resolved a taxation deadlock; the Budget Control Act of 2011, which resolved that year’s debt ceiling crisis; and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which addressed the impending fiscal cliff.
Obama and Biden were re-elected in 2012.
At the 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference, Biden explained how he aquired his affection for Israel. “We gathered at my dinner table to have conversation,” he said. “It was at that table I first heard the phrase that is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough — first I heard the phrase, ‘Never again.’” He said he also “learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.”
Biden recalled his Christian father being baffled by the debate following World War II over whether or not to establish the State of Israel. “My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble it was, like the United States.”
A second tragedy struck the family when Biden’s son, Beau died of cancer in 2015. His death was one reason, Biden announced he would not seek the presidency in the 2016 elections. Beau was married to a Jew as is his sister Ashley, which gives Joe a familial connection to the Jewish people.
After completing his second term as vice president, Biden joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was named the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Presidential Practice.
In January 2017, Biden was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction.
Unlike his rivals, Biden has a decades-long record of support for Israel from his career as a senator and vice president. Biden will benefit from his role in the Obama administration with voters who supported the Iran nuclear deal and other Middle East policies while many of those same policies will alienate other voters who opposed them.
A former U.S. official told Al-Monitor, “Biden was a leading voice to argue that we still need to solidify the relationship to include providing additional security assistance to Israel,” the former official said, “to make sure that the Israelis understood whatever our disagreements were on the Iran deal, that we continue to support their security.”
Biden has known Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for years and has a warmer relationship with him than Obama. One cause of tension was Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint session of Congress to oppose the Iran deal. Like many Democrats, Biden did not attend the speech. The Netanyahu government also embarrassed Biden by announcing 1,600 new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem in the middle of the then-vice president’s 2010 trip to Israel, which Biden condemned as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”
In 2012, Biden said Netanyahu has been his friend for more than 30 years. “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you,” Biden said at the time.
Foreign Policy Advisers
Tony Blinken is a former Deputy Secretary of State and Deputy National Security Advisor. He is a Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
Nicholas Burns is a former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and currently the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Carlyn Reichel is a former speechwriter for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama’s National Security Council. She also wrote speeches for Biden while he was Vice President and now is the communications director at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement.
Burns and Blinken are members of the National Security Action’s advisory board, which is lobbying to end support for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war in Yemen and opposes President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
The United States-Israel Relationship
Responding to President Trump’s remark that Jews voting for Democrats “shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty” (JTA, August 20, 2019), Biden tweeted: “these comments are insulting and inexcusable — just like your previous dual loyalty insinuations. Stop dividing Americans and disparaging your fellow citizens.” (@JoeBiden, August 20, 2019)
Axios asked candidates if they would move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv. “Vice President Biden would not move the American embassy back to Tel Aviv," a campaign spokesman told Axios. "But he would re-open our consulate in East Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians. He would also return the United States to the effort of encouraging a two-state solution — the only way to truly guarantee Israel’s long-term security as a Jewish and democratic state and meet the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians for a state of their own." (Axios, July 14, 2019)
Biden called for “sustaining our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security regardless of how much you may disagree with this present leader. It is essential.” (CSPAN, July 11, 2019)
“The relationship has never been about individual leaders it’s been about the kinship, the values,” Biden said. “We also have to tell each other the truth and that includes offering criticism on polices that are counterproductive to peace.” (Comments to American Jewish Committee, June 2, 2019)
“We are Israel’s maybe not-only friend,” Biden said, “but only absolutely certain friend.” (J Street Gala, April 18, 2016)
“America’s support for Israel’s security is unshakable.
“There is no contradiction between being progressive and being a supporter of Israel.” (J Street Gala, September 28, 2013)
“Let me end where I began, by reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel. It’s not only a longstanding, moral commitment, it’s a strategic commitment. An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world is in the practical, strategic interests of the United States of America.” (AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2013)
- “In my 34-year career, I have never wavered from the notion that the only time progress has ever been made in the Middle East is when the Arab nations have known that there is no daylight between us and Israel. So the idea of being an ‘honest broker’ is not, as some of my Democratic colleagues call for, the answer. It is being the smart broker, it is being the smart partner.” (Forward, March 20, 2007)
- “The Democrats' support for Israel “comes from our gut, moves through our heart, and ends up in our head. It's almost genetic.” (October 5, 2006)
- “There has never been progress in the Middle East without the United States acting as a catalyst. The fact of the matter is that our good offices are important. The fact as the matter is that I would not do anything that I did not coordinate with the Israeli government. I would not pretend to be anything other than we are. Arabs know where we are and all they want to know is that we are going to, in fact, be blanced and fair about it. I think we can still establish that...My point is that we should have some very important person on the ground there, ready to explore all the initiatives, any serious person in the government thinks it might be worth considering. We should be a catalyst here.” (October 5, 2006)
- “The single most important thing we could do for Israel right now is to get a political settlement in Iraq. That changes the dynamic, frees up resources for us, frees up our capability and changes the whole game, but we don't seem to have anyone in this administration that can connect the dots.” (October 5, 2006)
- “Because of our lack of a prevention strategy, we're left with no option here (in the Israel-Lebanon War), in my view, but to support Israel in what is a totally legitimate self-defense effort.” (Washington, July 16, 2006)
“The historic Iran nuclear deal we negotiated blocked Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, with inspectors on the ground — international inspectors confirming that the agreement was being kept. Yet Trump cast it aside, prompting Iran to restart its nuclear program, become more provocative, and raising the risk of another disastrous war in the region. If Tehran returns to compliance with the deal, I would rejoin the agreement and work with our allies to strengthen and extend it while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s destabilizing activities....” (CSPAN, July 11, 2019)
“Now we’re going to decide we’re going to threaten a war with Iran. I mean, the man has no foreign policy…. What has he [Trump] done to slow up Iran at all? The way to keep Iran from being a nuclear power is to stay in the agreement. That’s what was negotiated.” (Fox News, May 15, 2019)
“Talk of a ‘better deal’ is an illusion,” Biden said in a statement when Trump pulled out in May. “It took years of sanctions pressure, painstaking diplomacy, and the full support of the international community to achieve that goal. We have none of that in place today.” (Al-Monitor, March 19, 2019)
“A nuclear armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel, an unacceptable danger to world peace and security, including the likelihood of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, making everyone less secure.” (J Street Gala, September 28, 2013)
Iraq’s [sic] acquisition of a nuclear weapon not only would present an existential threat to Israel, it would present a threat to our allies and our partners — and to the United States. And it would trigger an arms race — a nuclear arms race in the region, and make the world a whole lot less stable. So we have a shared strategic commitment. Let me make clear what that commitment is: It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Period….If, God forbid, the need to act occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected to avoid any confrontation….We are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make. They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program, or they can continue down the path they’re on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.” (AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2013)
“We know what Israel knows: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Period. And we — and me — we are urging every nation in the world that we deal with — and we deal with them all — to start treating Hezbollah as such, and naming them as a terrorist organization.” (AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2013)
- “If he takes the country to war in [Iran] without a vote of Congress, which will not exist, then he should be impeached.” (November, 15 2007)
- “I stand with the many citizens- from the U.S. and around the world- who are concerned at the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Nuclear proliferation is a grave concern to international stability, and in the hands of the sponsors of terorism is entirely unacceptable.” (Statement to the Israel Project, July 19, 2007)
- “Iran with the bomb could spark an arms race in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria joining in. Given the fault lines - between Sunni and Shia, Israelis and Palestinians, Persians and Arabs, Turks and Kurds, fundamentalists and moderates - that's the last thing we need. And it's the last thing Israel needs.
No President should take any option off the table, including force. But we have time: Iran is years away from having a bomb and a missile to deliver it. We need to use the time wisely.
We have to keep our eyes on the prize: preventing Iran from getting the bomb. This administration spent five years obsessed with the idea of getting rid of the Iranian regime.
None of us like the regime, but think about the logic: We want you to renounce the bomb - and by the way, when you do we're still going to try to take you down. The result: Iran accelerated its efforts to get the bomb and it is much closer now than it was when President Bush took office.
We need a policy that isolates Iran, not America and tips the balance in Iran against pursuing nuclear weapons. That means keeping our allies, Russia and China on the same page as we ratchet up economic and diplomatic pressure on the government to stop pursuing nuclear weapons. At the same time, there are growing fissures within the ruling elite - we need to exploit them.
Above all, we have to recognize that our biggest allies in this effort are the Iranian people. They're open to America. They don't like a regime that denies them basic political and social rights and that can't deal with corruption, unemployment and inflation. The Iranian people need to know it is their government, not the US that is choosing confrontation over cooperation. So we should tone down the rhetoric and talk. It's amazing how little faith this administration has in America's ideas and ideals.
Force must be the last option because it's a bad option. First, with our forces bogged down in Iraq, our threat to use force doesn't look very credible. Second, we can set back Iran's program but not stop it. Using force would lead to retaliation by Iran, including against our troops in Iraq. It would cause the Iranian people to rally behind Ahmadinejad and the extremists. Third, even a 'limited' strike would be perceived as something much bigger by the Iranians and could spark a real war. The only thing worse than a poorly planned intentional war is an unplanned unintentional war.” (Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2007)
- “The bottom line here is, if regime change is the operative element of this administration's policy [in Iran], you are never going to get to the point where you end up with a diplomatic solution. There may be no diplomatic solution, in the end. That's possible. We may have crossed the line, or they may have crossed the line...while we fool around with this, you're going to see Japan go nuclear, and you're going to see China react to Japan going nuclear, and you're going to see a chain of events set in motion that are going to be significantly damaging to the next generation of Americans. And so, it seems to me we should get off this wicket of suggesting that we won't talk. I mean, what are we afraid of in talking?” (FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, October 22, 2006)
- “It seems to me what we have to do is continue to push to see if we can hold this coalition together to increase gradual sanctions [on Iran]. Without that, we don't have a whole lot of options here...This is a test for the diplomacy. This is a test for the United Nations. If it fails, then what we're going to have to do is begin to come up with a serious containment policy, here.” (August 27, 2006)
Hamas and the Situation in Gaza
- “We contract our foreign policy, and that is a dangerous situation. Do you think there’s any reasonable prospect that the Saudis are going to push Hamas to recognize Israel?” (Forward, March 20, 2007)
- “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a party that calls for its destruction, engages in terrorism and maintains an armed militia. Hamas must choose: bullets or ballots.” (January 2006)
Peace with the Palestinians
Asked by an IfNotNow activist about the “occupation,” Biden said. “I think occupation is a real problem, a significant problem. I think the settlements are unnecessary. The only answer is a two-state solution, number one. Number two: the Palestinians have to step up to stop the hate. So, it’s a two-way street.” (The Intercept, July 13 2019)
“The present course Israel’s on is not one that’s likely to secure its existence as a Jewish, democratic state— and we have to make sure that happens.”
“There is, at the moment, no political will among Israelis and Palestinians to move forward with serious negotiations,”
“No matter what legitimate disagreements the Palestinian people have with Israel, there is never justification for terrorism,” Biden said. “No leader should fail to condemn as terrorists those who commit such brutalities.”
“I firmly believe that the actions that Israel’s government has taken over the past several years — the steady and systematic expansion of settlements, the legalization of outposts, land seizures — they’re moving us and more importantly they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction.” (J Street Gala, April 18, 2016)
The Palestinian-Israeli issue involves the least ideological and least sectarian Arabs in the Middle East.” (J Street Gala, September 28, 2013)
“Israel’s own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they’ve all called for a two-state solution and an absolute secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state. But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game. We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve. Even some of you in the audience said, why do we even talk about it anymore? Well, it’s going to require hard steps on both sides. But it’s in all of our interests — Israel’s interest, the United States’ interest, the interest of the Palestinian people. We all have a profound interest in peace.” (AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2013)
- “I would do what I called on the Bush Administration to do two years ago - and that it failed to do: urgently support Abbas and Salam Fayad to shore up their position in West Bank and help them deliver real benefits to their constituents. But I would tie our assistance to genuine transparency and accountability.
- At the same time, I would work to isolate Hamas. We should not talk to Hamas unless and until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept past agreements. These are the demands not just of the United States, but of the so-called Quartet: Russia, US, the European Union, and UN.
- Hamas has to decide between bullets and ballots - either it lays down its arms and acts democratically, or it continues as a terrorist organization and is treated as such. It cannot have it both ways.
- I would seriously talk to our European allies, Israel, Egypt, and Abbas about the possibility of an international force deployed along the Egypt-Gaza border to prevent smuggling of arms into Gaza. I know that Israel is interested in such a force.
- I would also support alternatives to Hamas. I would urge Palestinian leaders to reform Fatah, to combat corruption and build efficiency. I would use a $20 million fund that I created last year to promote democratic alternatives at the grass roots in the Palestinian areas - a fund the Administration has never used. And I would press the oil-rich Arab states to do the same.” (Jerusalem Post, July 5, 2007)
- “The outcome [of the Palestinian elections] reflects Palestinian anger and frustration at the Palestinian Authority and Fatah for their corruption, mismanagement, and failure to provide law and order.” (January 2006)
Syria and Lebanon
“The United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria as well. Assad has shown his father’s disregard for human life and dignity, engaging in brutal murder of his own citizens. Our position on that tragedy could not be clearer: Assad must go. But we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus….And because we recognize the great danger Assad’s chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States, to the whole world, we’ve set a clear red line against the use of the transfer of those weapons. And we will work together to prevent this conflict and these horrific weapons from threatening Israel’s security.” (AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2013)
- “There are plenty of reasons to mistrust Assad, but there could be real benefits to hard-headed diplomacy. Syria is the common denominator of many problems - in Lebanon , the Palestinian territories, and to a lesser extent Iraq. They are Iran 's closest ally. But it is also a fundamentally weak and isolated regime. We should work to break up its marriage of convenience with Iran. If Syria could be encouraged to act less irresponsibly it could have a real impact in the region.” (August 8, 2007)
- “It is a mistake not to let Israel, if it wishes to, if it sees an opportunity to go out and explore possibilities with the Syrians. If I’m in Damascus, what’s in my best interest? My best interest is to be free of Iran’s yoke, on the good side of the equation with the oil-producing Sunni states, and able to deliver for my people what appears to be a victory by having a settlement on the Golan. Now, whether that can be accomplished remains to be seen, but it should be explored.” (Forward, March 20, 2007)
Sources: “Vice President Joe Biden,” The White House;
“Joe Biden,” Wikipedia;
Ethan Bronner, “As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements,” New York Times, (March 9, 2010);
“Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to the AIPAC Policy Conference,” Jewish Journal, (March 4, 2013);
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, “Biden’s ‘Hawkish’ Speech Garners Mixed Reviews At J Street,” Times of Israel, (October 1, 2013);
Edward-Isaac Dovere, “Biden blasts Israeli government at J Street gala, Politico, (April 18, 2016);
Josh Lederman, “Biden: ‘Overwhelming frustration’ with Israeli gov’t,” AP, (April 18, 2016);
Bryant Harris, “2020 Democrats vow to re-enter Iran nuclear deal,” Al-Monitor, (March 19, 2019);
Ron Kampeas, “5 Jewish things to know about Joe Biden, JTA, (April 24, 2019);
Bryant Harris, “Biden’s pro-Israel record could help with defense of Iran nuclear deal,” Al-Monitor, (April 25, 2019)
Paul Steinhauser, “Biden slams Trump over Iran, says president ‘has no foreign policy,’”Fox News, (May 15, 2019);
Comments to American Jewish Committee, (June 2, 2019);
“Clip Of Former Vice President Joe Biden Speech On Foreign Policy,” CSPAN, (July 11, 2019);
Alayna Treene and Barak Ravid, “Top 2020 Dems wouldn’t reverse Trump's Jerusalem embassy decision,” Axios, (July 14, 2019);
Robert Mackey, “Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden Condemn Israeli Occupation, as Young American Jews Urge Democrats to Press Israel,” The Intercept, (July 13 2019);
Al-Monitor, (September 13, 2019).