Biden repeats oft-told story of meeting with Golda Meir, but mixes up two of Israel’s wars

Mr Biden’s tale of meeting Israel’s fourth prime minister is one he has told often over the years

Andrew Feinberg
Friday 03 December 2021 20:01 GMT
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President Joe Biden may have left some attendees at a White House Hanukkah reception scratching their heads on Wednesday when he backdated an encounter he had with then-Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.

Mr Biden was regaling guests who were there to attend a lighting of the White House’s menorah when he turned the subject to his long involvement in relations between Washington and Israel.

“I was saying to a couple of younger members of my staff … about the many times I’ve been to Israel … all of a sudden, I realized, ‘God, you’re getting old, Biden,’” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

Continuing, the president noted that he known all but three of Israel’s prime ministers starting with the fourth, Golda Meir.

“During the six-day war … she invited me to come over because I was going to be the liaison between she and the Egyptians about the Suez, and so on and so forth,” Mr Biden said.

“And I sat in front of her desk … and she had a guy – her staff member – to my right.  His name was [future Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin. And she kept flipping those maps up and down.  She had that bevy of maps – sort of kept it – and it was – it was so depressing what she was – about what happened.  She gave me every detail”.

Continuing, Mr Biden recalled how Meir asked him if he’d like to have a photo taken with her, and how during the photo opportunity she’d asked him why he appeared depressed in response to her presentation.

“And I said, ‘Well, Madam Prime Minister … you’ve painted such a dismal picture’. She said: ‘Oh, no, no, no…don’t worry.  We have a secret weapon in our battle in this area,’ and …  I said, ‘What’s that?’  She said, ‘We have no place else to go,’” he said.

It’s a story the president has told countless times over his decades in Washington, first as a senator, then as vice president, and now as president.

Sometimes, he goes further into detail, as he did during an April 1992 speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee when he described how Meir had been “chain-smoking and puffing and filling up the cigarettes and [his] lungs with smoke”.

A classified Israeli memorandum of the meeting, first reported on by Israel journalist Nadav Eyal, confirms some of the details of Mr Biden’s frequently-spun yarn.

Mr Biden did meet Meir as a freshman senator. And they did discuss Israel’s military status relative to her neighbors. But there was just one problem with Biden’s version of events.  

In 1967, Mr Biden was a second-year law student at Syracuse University, and Meir would not become Israel’s head of government for another two years.

The meeting was in 1973, and it was just before the three-week Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states.

Mr Biden’s trip to Israel followed a visit with then-Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat, who reportedly assured him that Egypt was accepting of Israeli military superiority (but would order a surprise attack on Israel just over a month later).

That conflict, the fourth major war Israel had fought since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, ended with Israel humiliating the combined Arab forces by moving within 70 miles of Cairo and within 20 miles of Syria’s capital, Damascus.

This article was amended on 9 December 2021 to change a reference to ‘relations between Washington and Tel Aviv’ to ‘relations between Washington and Israel’.

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