NY TIMES: Biden tells Obama not to free Pollard
J4JP Prefacing Note: VP Joe Biden said that if it were up to him, Pollard would remain in prison for the rest of his life. Fortunately it is not up to Biden to decide whether or not Obama grants clemency to Jonathan Pollard. Now, more than ever it is time for the President himself to respond to the numerous requests for Jonathan Pollard's release. If this tough talk by the VP was a bid to deflect attention from his boss, Obama, the big question is, how does Biden expect anyone to take him seriously when he himself is on record (as of 2007) in support of Jonathan Pollard's release?
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Obama Turns to Biden to Reassure Jewish Voters, and Get Them to Contribute, Too
Helene Cooper - NY Times - September 30, 2011
WASHINGTON - In the middle of a meeting with 15 rabbis in Boca Raton, Fla., last week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took a punch meant for his boss.
One of the rabbis asked why Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy convicted in 1986, was still in prison. Mr. Biden, on a mission to shore up support for President Obama, replied forcefully, according to several people at the meeting.
"President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time,' " Mr. Biden said. "If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life."
As Mr. Obama confronts his re-election challenge and the prospect of fracturing support among core constituencies, he is relying increasingly on Mr. Biden for help with one particular group: American Jews, who routinely tend to vote Democratic but whom the Republicans are, once again, making a run at.
Despite some warning signs, Democratic officials maintain that they do not think that Mr. Obama is in danger of losing the Jewish vote - particularly given the president's muscular defense of Israel at the United Nations General Assembly last week.
But a Republican victory in the race for a Congressional seat in a heavily Orthodox Jewish district in New York three weeks ago clearly has some Democratic officials unsettled. So the White House has unleashed a barrage of officials - including Samantha Power, a senior aide at the National Security Council, and Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations - to soothe relations with American Jewish leaders.
Topping the list, though, is Mr. Biden, who on Wednesday will host a Rosh Hashana party at his residence for Jewish leaders. Mr. Biden has taken on the job of fund-raising among Jewish Democrats, at the same time that he has been seeking to assure the party's base that the Obama administration remains a loyal friend to Israel. At a fund-raiser Sept. 20 at a home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, all but one of the questions that Mr. Biden took were about foreign policy - namely Israel. Ditto for many other fund-raisers where Mr. Biden has been the top attraction, administration officials said, as he has sought to soothe, clarify and reassure.
"Am I going to the party on the 5th? Yes," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Biden, Mr. Foxman said, "is comfortable with the community, and the community is comfortable with him."
"He's seen as a friend," Mr. Foxman said.
Administration officials say that the White House clearly agrees, and it needs all the Jewish friends it can get; American Jews have long been a dependable source of campaign contributions for Democrats. Mr. Biden has been encouraged to provide a narrative for Jewish constituents that offers a counterpoint to Republican presidential candidates who have accused the administration of being too tough on its foremost ally and too sympathetic to the Palestinians and Israel's other Arab neighbors.
When Dan Senor, a Fox News commentator, wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 14 accusing Mr. Obama of building "the most consistently one-sided diplomatic record against Israel of any American president in generations," it was Mr. Biden's top national security adviser, Antony J. Blinken, whom the White House chose to hit back.
In his 1,000-word letter to the editor, Mr. Blinken went into a full exposition of all the ways in which Mr. Obama has been helpful to Israel, highlighted by an unparalleled $3 billion in military assistance, including an additional $205 million to build the Iron Dome rocket defense system for communities on Israel's border with Gaza. He also emphasized the United States' effort to block a declaration of statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and intervening to protect the Israeli ambassador when a violent mob stormed the embassy in Cairo.
At his Boca Raton meeting with the rabbis - at the home of a former Democratic congressman, Ron Klein - Mr. Biden went through the same list, adding some flourishes of his own.
Mr. Biden, who through his foreign policy work in the Senate built lifelong ties with Israeli politicians, is able to sprinkle his remarks with asides about how he first met Yitzhak Rabin back in 1973 when Mr. Rabin was working with Golda Meir, then the Israeli prime minister, and how Mrs. Meir once confided to Mr. Biden that Israel's secret weapon is that it has "nowhere else to go." He talked about having dinner at the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and about how he autographed a photo for Mr. Netanyahu with "love you, love you, love you, but we don't agree on anything," Mr. Klein said.
It is a level of comfort with all things Israeli in general and Jewish in particular that Mr. Obama simply cannot convey, White House officials acknowledge.
"Joe Biden has been in the Senate for 30-something years," Mr. Klein said, "while I think Obama probably did take every right vote on Israel when he was in the Senate, he just hasn't been around that long."
Mr. Biden told the rabbis that the administration had made a few missteps in its handling of the Israel relationship, including Mr. Obama's decision not to go to Jerusalem as president, after he made his famous Cairo speech in 2009 in which he elevated the plight of the Palestinians to equal status with the Israelis'. (In fact, it was Mr. Biden who traveled to Israel that year, in what ended up being a disastrous trip in which the Israeli government announced new settlements just before his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, prompting a sharp response from the Obama administration that included an irate 45-minute telephone call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Mr. Netanyahu.)
Rabbi Jeffrey Kurtz-Lendner, the senior rabbi at Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., said he went to the Boca Raton meeting after receiving an invitation from the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Rabbi Kurtz-Lendner, who voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, said he arrived with several questions in mind, including why the administration had allowed its spats with Mr. Netanyahu to become public.
But Mr. Biden addressed all of his issues before he could ask them, the rabbi said, and he ended up not even raising his hand to speak. "Anything that I wanted to say, he already said, so at that point, the only thing I could have said was, 'You look good,' " Rabbi Kurtz-Lendner said, laughing.
He said he left the meeting with many of his doubts assuaged. "Having this meeting really showed me that they do understand the issue," he said.
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