US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s 1973 meeting with then-Israeli prime minister Golda Meir is a tale he often recounts when speaking at Jewish or Israel-related events.
In 1973, as a 30-year-old fresh senator, Biden’s first overseas trip was to Israel.
It was the eve of the Yom Kippur War, and Biden met with Meir, who, in his own telling, chain-smoked as she detailed regional security threats facing Israel. He has called it “one of the most consequential meetings I’ve ever had in my life.”
Forty-seven years later, and just weeks before Biden faces Donald Trump in the 2020 US presidential elections, an Israeli reporter has shed some fresh light on that get-together, courtesy of a never-before-seen Israeli government document summarizing it.
Biden toured Israel and the territories it held some 40 days before the start of the war on October 6. As he tells it, he then sat down with the American-raised, Kyiv-born Israeli prime minister, who showed him various maps and explained to him exactly why Israel’s situation, as military tensions ramped up, was dire. Biden was apparently incredibly impressed by the Israeli leader, but described the meeting as depressing.
Meir then asked Biden to pose for a photo.
“She said, ‘Senator, you look so worried,’” he recalled, speaking at an Israeli Embassy Independence Day celebration in 2015. “I said, ‘Well, my God, Madam Prime Minister,’ and I turned to look at her. I said, ‘The picture you paint.’ She said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. We have’ — I thought she only said this to me. She said, ‘We have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs: You see, we have no place else to go.’”
Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal has now provided excerpts from a classified memo of the meeting made by a senior Israeli official who was in attendance.
The unnamed official said Biden told Meir that during meetings in Cairo prior to his arrival in Israel, officials there assured him they accept “Israel’s military superiority.”
Biden warned that Israel’s actions in the territories it had captured during the Six Day War, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, were leading to “creeping annexation.”
Since he believed Israel was militarily dominant in the region, he suggested the Jewish state might initiate a first step for peace through unilateral withdrawals from areas with no strategic importance.
The official said Biden criticized the Nixon administration for being “dragged by Israel,” complaining that it was impossible to have a real debate in the Senate about the Middle East as senators were fearful of saying things unpopular with Jewish voters.
Meir rejected Biden’s call for unilateral steps, launching into a speech about the region and its problems (possibly the spiel Biden alluded to in his own comments years later).
The official added his own personal impressions regarding the young senator at the bottom of the document, saying Biden was full of respect toward the Israeli leader and repeatedly said he had come to learn, “and yet while speaking displayed a fervor and made comments that signaled his lack of diplomatic experience.”