Biden ‘methodically ignoring’ Netanyahu, says expert on US-Israel relations

“He wants to prove that now there’s a new White House” and doesn’t want to help the prime minster get re-elected, says U.S.-Israel relations expert.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Countering the official position of the American administration, U.S.-Israel relations expert Bar-Ilan University Prof. Eytan Gilboa (PhD Harvard) told Arutz 7 Monday that President Joe Biden is purposefully snubbing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although the president has called several world leaders since taking office, he has not picked up the phone to any Middle Eastern heads of state. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki answered a reporter’s query about the silence directed at Israel by denying that there was any message in that silence.

“It is not an intentional dis,” said Psaki. “Prime Minister Netanyahu is someone the president has known for some time. Obviously we have a long and important relationship with Israel. It is just a reflection of the fact that we’ve only been here for three and a half weeks. He has not called every single global leader yet.”

“I can assure you he will be speaking with the prime minister soon and he’s looking forward to doing that,” she added.

Gilboa said he did not believe the spokeswoman and gave two reasons for what he called Biden’s “methodically ignoring” Netanyahu.

“One is that Biden wants to prove that now there’s a new White House, and the intimate relationship that Netanyahu had with Trump will not exist this time, and therefore Netanyahu has low priority,” he explained.

“The second reason has to do with the elections [in Israel]. Biden does not want to be seen as helping Netanyahu. He remembers, perhaps traumatically, that three weeks before the 2015 election, Netanyahu went to Washington to address the two houses of Congress against Obama’s plan for a nuclear deal with Iran.”

Biden was the vice president at the time and did not object to the terms of the accord that Israelis overwhelmingly opposed. He went to Guatemala to meet Central American leaders rather than attend Netanyahu’s speech, even though customarily the vice president presides over a joint session of Congress.

In Gilboa’s opinion, the arguments put forward by White House officials that Biden is focusing more on internal crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the yawning political and racial divide in America are not convincing.

‘Netanyahu does not interest them’

“The Americans do deal with Middle Eastern affairs all the time,” he pointed out. “They want to reach a nuclear agreement with the Iranians. They talk about suspending or freezing arms deals with the United Arab Emirates and Morocco and about changing attitudes toward the Palestinians, such as opening a consulate in East Jerusalem and restoring $400 million in aid to the PA, restoring aid to UNRWA and reopening the PLO office in Washington that Trump shut down.

“Therefore, it is not true to say that the Middle East does not interest them as much, but rather that Netanyahu does not interest them as much.”

Netanyahu himself played down concerns regarding the apparent cold shoulder, touting his close relationship with the president in a Channel 12 interview Monday.

Saying that the two did disagree on Iran and the Palestinian issues, he repeated a point he has already made several times since Biden won the election. “We have a great friendship of almost 40 years, since I represented Israel in Washington [as deputy chief of mission] and he was in the Senate,” he said, and the two leaders saw eye to eye “about many things.”

Other top administration figures quickly touched base with their Israeli counterparts after being confirmed by the Senate. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made sure to declare his government’s “firm commitment to Israel’s security” and discuss regional security challenges with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi just one day after he was voted in, and has called him at least one other time since then. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to Defense Minister Benny Gantz barely a week after taking up his post.

The first contact between the two governments came three days after the inauguration, when the administration’s new national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called his Israeli colleague Meir Ben Shabbat to introduce himself and discuss Iran and the Abraham Accords.