US President Joe Biden met at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Official reports from both governments, and the joint press appearance by both men suggested the meeting was warm, amicable and that Biden reaffirmed the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States.
But then along came New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman claiming that Biden had told him the opposite, that he believed US-Israel ties to be in jeopardy due to, among other things, Israel’s judicial reform legislative push.
So what’s the real story? Which version is accurate? Or perhaps Biden, who has become known for his public gaffes, really did present two opposing positions in a matter of hours.
“This is a friendship which I believe is simply unbreakable,” Biden said in opening the joint press event with Herzog. “As I affirmed to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu [in a phone call] yesterday, America’s commitment to Israel is firm and it is ironclad.”
Herzog followed by saying how pleased he was that Biden had reaffirmed to Netanyahu the strength of US-Israel relations “because there are some enemies of ours that sometimes mistake the fact that we may have some differences, as impacting our unbreakable bond.”
Little did Herzog realize he was speaking first and foremost about Friedman, a serial Netanyahu-hater who has long sought to drive a wedge between Washington and Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Friedman interviewed Biden at the White House following Herzog’s visit. While the American and Israeli presidents didn’t speak much about Israel’s controversial judicial reform, at least not in front of the cameras, that seemed to be Friedman’s primary focus.
Biden told the Times journalist that Israel needs to find “consensus on controversial areas of policy…my recommendation to Israeli leaders is not to rush. I believe the best outcome is to continue to seek the broadest possible consensus here.”
Biden noted that the “vibrancy of Israeli democracy” is the “core of our bilateral relationship.”
Actually, it’s not. See: Reagan, Blackstone and Why American Christians Really Support Israel
Somehow, Friedman interpreted that to mean Biden fears for the future of Israel-US relations, contrary to what he had just told Israeli leaders.
“He is basically pleading with Netanyahu and his supporters to understand: If we are not seen to share that democratic value, it will be difficult to sustain the special relationship that Israel and America have enjoyed for the last 75 years for another 75 years,” Friedman wrote, adding, “Message to Israelis, right, left and center: Joe Biden may be the last pro-Israel Democratic president. You ignore his sincere concerns at your peril.”
That last part might be true. But it has more to do with the Democratic Party in America moving further left and away from Israel than with anything happening in the Jewish state.
Israeli officials fired back at Friedman, and the Israeli media outlets that quote everything he writes as gospel truth.
Channel 12 News reporter Amit Segal forwarded a message from National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi in which the latter stated: “The telephone conversation between the US president and the prime minister was, as described by both parties, ‘good, cordial and constructive.’ The things attributed to the president in the article in the New York Times were not said at all in the conversation.”
Another unnamed political source told Segal: “What Friedman quoted from Biden was not even remotely said in the conversation with Netanyahu. The topic of reform was mentioned in the margins of the conversation.”
So? Fake news? That wouldn’t be outside the Times’ wheelhouse. Or was Biden just telling each audience what he believed they wanted to hear?
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