The Day Joe Biden Threatened to Kick My Ass

By Rannie Amiri

Many, many years later, the memory of a campus speech delivered by Senator—now vice presidential candidate—Joseph Biden of Delaware remains especially vivid. Although the topic was predictably foreign policy, on which he is an alleged expert, the reason for attending was not to hear the verbose senator sanctimoniously expound on international relations. Rather, it was in anticipation of the question and answer session that would follow. At the time, Israel was in the throws of the first intifada.

After responding to a few softballs, a persistent hand was acknowledged.

I prefaced my question with the following two quotes, the first by Winston Churchill:

"The cause of unrest in Palestine, and the only cause, arises from the Zionist movement, and from our promises and pledges in regard to it" (House of Commons, 14 June 1921).

The second, a poignant comment by the late Israeli civil rights activist, Dr. Israel Shahak:

"You cannot have humane Zionism. It is a contradiction in terms" (Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. IV, 1975).

I then posed the following:

"Rather than succumb to the influence of various lobbying groups in Washington, such as AIPAC, and the untold amount of money they use to dictate policy, wouldn’t it be more prudent to examine the real effects that collective punishment, daily humiliation, and countless civilian causalities inflicted by the Israelis have on an occupied population, and use that understanding to formulate a more rational approach toward the Palestinians?"

Senator Biden proceeded to walk directly from the podium to where I stood, and, nose-to-nose, we engaged in an uneasy back-and-forth about the influence of the Israeli lobby on U.S. Middle East policy and the heavy-handed approach employed by Israel in dealing with its occupation of Palestinian land.

Shortly thereafter Biden turned, put his arm around my shoulder, and addressed the audience.

"If this was not such a fine, articulate, and sincere young man, and he implied that my vote had been bought, I would give him a swift kick in the ass."

The audience roared in applause.

Nonetheless content that my point had been made and rebutted with only an insult, I sat down.

The next person to be called on was a friend who sat directly behind me who calmly said, "If my father heard you say such a thing, I believe he would have done the same to you first."

An imperceptible smile crept across my face. I realized it was time to leave. We both got up and walked out of the hushed auditorium.

I departed not with the certainty of my arguments, as unpopular as they were that night, or the shaky poise of a student who confronted a senator and self-styled expert on foreign affairs. Instead, it was with the simple satisfaction that my dignity remained intact. A pity the same could not have been said for Sen. Biden.

-Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He contributed this article to

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