Sen. Joe Biden reiterates support for Israel at two South Florida rallies

Sep 3, 2008

Mark Hollis and Juan Ortega

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, the Democrats' blunt-talking vice presidential pick, on Tuesday put his foreign policy experience on display for South Floridians and reiterated that he and Barack Obama will be wholehearted supporters of Israel.

At rallies in Deerfield Beach and West Palm Beach, Obama's running mate reached out to Jewish voters by tossing out Yiddish phrases and promising that the Democratic ticket would make Israel safer by improving America's credibility across the globe.

Biden, 65, also repeatedly cast himself as a scrappy fighter and champion of middle-class values.

"A straight left and right hook," Biden said of his campaign style during an evening town hall meeting before 1,200 backers in West Palm Beach. "We ain't laying down."

The Delaware senator distanced himself from an Israeli news story Monday that reported he said Israel would have to "reconcile" itself with a nuclear Iran. Biden called the report erroneous and outlined a long list of measures he's supported on behalf of Israel.

At the event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center and at an hourlong rally at the Century Village clubhouse in Deerfield Beach, Biden said he wouldn't have relinquished his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without being certain of Obama's support for the Jewish state.

"I would not have given up that job if I didn't in my heart, in my gut and in my head know that Barack Obama is exactly where I am on Israel," Biden said.

In an interview with the Sun Sentinel, Biden attacked Republican John McCain for backing stances of President Bush that, he said, have heightened tensions in the Middle East.

"By any empirical standard, Israel is less secure today than it was when George Bush became president," Biden said. "He has made one foul-up after another that John has supported."

Biden, who has more than three decades of experience in Washington, cast himself as not only an international affairs expert but also a straight talker. "I have a reputation for being pretty blunt," Biden said in his opening remarks. "I don't know how to curb that."

Still, he showed hesitation Tuesday in taking on a new and touchy campaign topic, the announcement over the weekend that Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.

An audience member in Deerfield Beach asked Biden to discuss the announcement, but Biden said candidates' children shouldn't be a campaign issue. "I have a simple proposition: Children are off limits," Biden said. "We've all been through things with our children. It's about common decency."

At both appearances, Biden spoke of making health care more affordable and accessible and protecting Social Security against privatization. He stressed that the Democratic presidential team wants to improve national policies to ensure people are treated more fairly.

"My mother has an expression: Walk a mile in my shoes," Biden told an audience of about 800 in Deerfield Beach. "[Obama] understands the words dignity and respect."

Biden also pushed for a national catastrophic insurance fund that would pool government resources to fund relief for hurricanes and other disasters.

"The last time I heard, hurricanes don't have the word ' Florida' on them. They don't have the word ' Louisiana.' They are acts of God," he said. "We have to pass this fund."

Ira R. Nockowitz, a Biden supporter who is Jewish, said Biden's pro-Israel discussion didn't surprise him.

"It was to be expected given the crowd he was speaking in front of. But he was sincere," said Nockowitz, 42, of Deerfield Beach.

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