Remarks by Vice President Joseph Biden at the Anti-Defamation League Centennial Gala

  • May 6, 2013
Vice President Joseph R. Biden
Remarks (As Delivered)
To the Anti-Defamation League
ADL Centennial Gala
April 30, 2013

Hi everybody. How are you?

Please, please sit down. Thank you.

It is an honor to be here. I promise I will not keep you any longer from your salad.

But I learned a long time ago, there is no way you can say "no" to Abe (Foxman). I know you think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding.

And by the way, yesterday, I had the pleasure of being with Abe and (ADL Centennial Chair) Barbara (Balser) and some others with ADL who came in to brief the president and me and we're sitting in the Oval (Office) and Barbara said, ‘well I have this film that's gone viral.' And she had her computer there with her, her laptop, and she said, "I'd like to show it to you."

And so here's this beautiful woman standing there with, and I'm thinking what the heck.

So, I got up and gave her the vice president's seat. You know the one that sits next to the president. So I slid it over to the president.

We'll by the time she got over to show him, she was in his chair with him.

And I was telling Barbara, there is a great picture that the White House photographer got.

Now you think I'm kidding? No, I'm not kidding. I'll tell you what. Made the president look better than he's looked in a long time. I tell you.

Look, folks, it's presumptuous of me to say this, but, I kind of feel like this is family.

You've been with me, and I've been with you, since as a 30-year-old kid in the United States Senate early in 1973 after I got sworn in. And so it's an honor to stop by. Abe said to me, "I know you have another event you're committed to tonight. And, can't you leave and just stop by?" And I said, "No I can't Abe." And, as we Catholics say, my conscience started to bother me. Bless me father for I have sinned. And so, I was worried I might go to hell. And so I left and I'm going back, back to the place. But it's a delight to be here.

Besides, this is your 100th anniversary. On your 50th anniversary, the only Catholic president in the history of the United States of America spoke to you, and I figured what the hell, for your 100th the only vice president that's a Catholic should speak to you.

Now I know the vast majority of the American people think I am Jewish, but I'm really Catholic. I am really Catholic.

I was up at Gratz College a while ago and a friend of mine, a rabbi from Wilmington, came in. I was speaking. And it was on a Sunday. And if you've ever been in Gratz College they've got this sort of auditorium on one side, then you step down into an atrium that is all flagstone, and then you go up out through the doors. … And so I was speaking and … in walks my rabbi. And so he's walking up to the front…. To try to ease the tension I said, "My rabbi is here." So he sat down and I went on with my speech. Afterwards … about a half a dozen older ladies standing in the atrium starting walking out. And one of them grabbed me and said "Joe, tell them. Tell them your Jewish. Tell them." I said, "In my heart. But, no I'm not. And she said, "But, ‘your rabbi.'"

And so I've been educated by the Anti-Defamation League and a lot of the other good people who are here in this room. You've been with me, and I think it's fair to say, on every important issue. And every issue. I can't think of a single issue that we have ever disagreed on.

One of the things you should know about the organization you are honoring tonight, is that the credibility of any group up on the Hill or in the White House rests upon the knowledge that whatever that group says, the spokesperson for that group says, is true. They tell the truth. They don't try to sugarcoat. One thing about the ADL is you always, you always, you always, just stated the facts. And have told the truth. That's why you are such a powerful influence in this country. And I look out there, Bob Sugarman, are you here? Bob's an old friend. There you go Bob. And Bob's about to become Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Bob, congratulations. Now that you are chairman don't pretend you don't know me, okay? Don't pretend you don't know me. You know, I've now ruined his reputation by acknowledging our friendship.

But ah, look folks. When John Kennedy was here 50 years ago, here's what he said about you all. He said, quote, "Your tireless pursuit of equality of treatment for all Americans has made a lasting and substantial contribution to our democracy." Fifty years later, and what I'd say to you is, and I mean this sincerely: You have become America's conscience. You have become the conscience of this country. No matter what the issue. You have been a pillar of the Jewish community, but you reach out and you have reached out your embrace for all communities. All communities.

You have worked in prejudice and bigotry. Your support, when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for civil liberties and civil rights, your efforts to advance equality. You defended the democratic ideals that represent the most sacred values, not of our country, but of humanity.

You have stuck to your mission, and some of us have tried to stick with you. We have fought -- I go back, we were taking about this, Abe and I -- back to the 70s when I first got to the Senate you were already fighting against anti-Semitism. Remember the days when we were talking about refusniks, and how we were all trying to open up opportunities here, I'm revealing my age, I know. But you were always there. You were there on every single domestic civil rights issue.

We fought a lot of battles. And back in the 70s, I remember one vividly and that was advocating for an Israeli-Egyptian peace. We also go back to the days when we split the community on the floor when I introduced legislation to not to sell the AWACs to the Saudis. And a lot of you were involved in that as well.

And so the reason I say that is not about me, it's about you. There's not a single issue that I can think of that has been raised to a national level -- about equal treatment, about decency, about how all human beings should be treated -- that you haven't been there. And today, you know what we talked about. The president thought I was just going down memory lane or something. But what did we talk about? We talked about immigration. You are in the forefront. You are in the forefront of the immigration battle. As you might have heard I got in a little trouble for endorsing gay marriage -- at the time. But look at you all. Look at the fight that you've all been engaged in. Again, I wasn't joking. This community has educated me. Educated me in my home state.

The whole notion of the gay and lesbian and transgender communities, you have been in the forefront. And long before, long before any other advocacy group but lesbian and gay.

And so in your speaking up, which was, I'm so proud of working with the president, when he in fact opened up military combat units to women. The whole idea is not you want anybody in combat. But you think that whatever capacity a person has, regardless of gender, they should be able to pursue it.

I believe one of the reasons why I am so proud to be associated with the president, is that what's at stake is … my four granddaughters have every single solitary right and opportunity that my grandson has, without any exception. That's what you guys are about.

So folks, as I said, it is an honor, it is an honor to have worked with Abe and his predecessors for the last 40 years, and because of you we are a better, more humane, more decent community. Everybody, my dad used to say, that every single solitary person is entitled to be treated with dignity. That's what you do. It's as basic as that. And ladies and gentleman, the consequence of that, is you are the most influential, the most listened to, the most respected organization in this town.

You are the conscience of our larger community. I thank you for that. And I wish you another hundred and fifty years.

Thank you all so very much.