One morning during a spasm of violence two decades ago, with suicide bombings shattering Israel every other day, the King David Hotel in Jerusalem seemed eerily empty. Foreigners were staying away. Nobody was in the dining room. Except for two people having breakfast: Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his aide, Antony J. Blinken.
Dennis B. Ross, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator, spotted them and approached. “I know why I’m here,” he said. “Why are you here?”
“This,” Mr. Biden responded without missing a beat, “is exactly when I should be here.”
Mr. Biden’s staunch support for Israel in a time of crisis is no recent phenomenon. The shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity that he has demonstrated in the three weeks since the bloody Hamas terrorist attack has its roots in more than half a century of affinity for the Jewish state, one that transcends scripted talking points and has become deeply personal. Other presidents have spoken the words. Mr. Biden gives every impression that he feels it in his bones.
For a devout Catholic from a state with relatively few Jews, Mr. Biden may seem like an unlikely champion of Israel. But his views were shaped by dinner table conversations with a father who decried the Holocaust and stories told by an aide who had survived the death camps. Some confidants said that Mr. Biden’s Irish heritage makes him relate to the plight of historically marginalized people and that his own family tragedy connects him to the grief of those who have lost so much.
Over the course of his career, he has traveled to Israel seven times as a senator, three times as vice president and now twice as president. He has met every prime minister since Golda Meir. His passion for the Jewish state has been evident that a fellow senator years ago called him “the only Catholic Jew.” A longtime Israeli official more recently called him “the first Jewish president.” He embraces Jewish nationalism. “You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” he often says.
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