Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Biden has yet to phone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though it has been a full 4 weeks since Biden assumed office as president of the United States. The more time goes by, the more speculation by the media on what, exactly, the lack of a phone call to the Israeli premier signifies, or whether it means anything at all. Is the lack of a phone call a snub, a slight? Or is Biden holding back until the results of the upcoming Israeli election are clear?

My host for this column, Elder of Ziyon, is on record as saying the no phone call to Israel is no big deal:
Some think that the symbolism of Biden not calling Netanyahu is important. I don't. Unless he calls Abbas first, this is not something to waste time on.
It’s true, as far as we know, that Biden has not yet called Mahmoud Abbas. Biden did, however, have Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr reach out to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh. So claimed Shtayyeh during an interview on France 24 Arabic TV on February 7, 2021, that was documented by MEMRI TV:

Interviewer: "Have you opened a channel of communication with the new Biden administration?"

Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh: "Yes, there has been a phone call between myself and Mr. Hady Amr – Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs. Mr. Amr reaffirmed what this administration declared during the election campaign: It will restore the aid, it will reopen the PLO office in Washington, and it will open a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem. This is an important political message. In addition, the administration intends to restore aid to UNRWA and aid to the Palestinian people. These issues, as far as we are concerned, fall under the definition of confidence-building measures between this administration and us.”


"We requested that this administration reverse all the decisions that were made by the Trump administration, including the decision [to move the] U.S. embassy [to Jerusalem]. However, we know that the new administration, might not go this way, and instead choose an alternative option, which is opening a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem in order to deal with the Palestinians directly. I believe that it sends a [clear] political message."

How important is this exchange? It’s hard to gauge, because first of all, it’s anecdotal. We weren’t there, and we don’t know if Shtayyeh’s account is faithful to the truth. But we do need to acknowledge that while Biden hasn’t spoken to Netanyahu, there have been contacts between the Biden administration and Israel. Haaretz, in fact, said that the first official contact between the two administrations took place on January 23, when U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.

The exchange with Ben-Shabbat, oddly enough, took place on a Saturday, when Israeli officials generally refrain from official business out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath, “Shabbat.” This phone call, like the lack of a phone call from Biden to Netanyahu, could, in theory, be seen as a slight by the Biden administration to Israel. Having his guy call Bibi’s guy on Shabbos? It’s certainly an affront to Israeli sensibilities.*

But I may be reading too much into this—it is likely that there are meetings and phone calls with Israeli officials on Shabbat all the time, they just aren’t advertised for fear of public backlash. As a result, when such meetings or phone calls take place on a Saturday, they tend to fall below the radar, and go unmentioned by the media. In this case, it may very well be that Israel wanted the media to put out the word that the phone call, in fact, took place, in order to take the sting out of the fact that Biden has yet to call Bibi.

Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, notes that Biden is the first president in 40 years to delay contact with an Israeli prime minister on taking office:

He called Xi. He called Putin. But three weeks into his presidency, Old Joe has pointedly refrained from calling the head of the government of our most reliable ally in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And so it’s clear now: Biden’s handlers intend to put immense strain on the U.S.-Israel alliance over the next four years, at a time when Israel and the rest of the free world are threatened by Iranian mullahs who are newly emboldened amid all the signs that Biden’s handlers plan to readopt Obama’s appeasement policies toward them.

Of the phone call between Hady Amr and Mohammad Shtayyeh, Spencer says:

The import of that call was as clear as the import of the snub of Netanyahu: the money will flow again, the jihad will be enabled again, the Israelis will be treated with contempt again, the peace accords that Trump enabled will be put on the back burner, if not repudiated outright. Everything is back on track now after a four-year speed bump.
The Washington Free Beacon, meanwhile, describes the lack of a phone call from President Biden to Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “diplomatic slight” and says that “congressional Republicans are piling on the White House for not speaking with Netanyahu, with multiple members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee telling the Free Beacon it is a slight that endangers the close U.S.-Israel alliance at a time when the world’s only Jewish state is facing down multiple terrorist threats.”

The Free Beacon lists a number of prominent Republicans who have spoken out against the slight:

· Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee

· Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), a top HFAC Republican

· Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee

· Rep. Ronny Jackson (R., Texas), another member of HFAC member

· Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), who sits on both the HFAC and the House Judiciary Committee

· Rep. Mark Green (R., Tenn.)

· Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R., Fla.), also on the HFAC

· Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), ranking member of the House's Middle East Subcommittee

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon also spoke out against Biden’s snub in this tweet of February 10th, tacking on Netanyahu’s phone number at the end for a bit of snarky emphasis:

In an earlier piece, the Free Beacon enumerated the history of US presidents contacting Israeli leaders over the past four decades:

Upon assuming office in January 1981, Reagan made overtures to Israel, vowing to protect its interests, and sent Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to meet with Israel’s leaders to build "Israeli confidence in the administration of President-elect Ronald Reagan," according to an Associated Press report from the time.

President George H.W. Bush followed this trend. He called then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir on Jan. 25, 1989, five days after he entered the White House.

President Bill Clinton reached out to Israel even sooner. He called then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Jan. 23, 1993, three days after being sworn in.

President George W. Bush phoned former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak on Jan. 27, 2001, a week after taking the White House, to express his support for the U.S.-Israel alliance.

President Barack Obama, who faced criticism from Republicans for policies they branded anti-Israel, called the Jewish state’s leaders on his first day in office. Obama also called Palestinian leaders that day, laying the groundwork for that administration’s failed bid to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

President Donald Trump not only called Netanyahu but made the historic decision to invite him to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2017, two days after he took the oath of office.
From Biden, however? Crickets. Of more concern to some, however, is the inability of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s inability to confirm Israel as a US ally. Elder of Ziyon covered this story in White House press secretary cannot say that Israel is a US ally. This is very bad. Here too, Elder once again opines that the failure of Biden to call Bibi is no big deal. He does, however, see the failure of the White House press secretary to clearly state that Israel is a close US ally as an ominous and significant harbinger of doom:

I don't think that it is a big deal that Biden hasn't called Netanyahu, but the inability to say that Israel is an ally is mind-boggling. Even if she didn't want to answer the same question about Saudi Arabia so she avoided answering about Israel, it is a big deal, because this points to Biden as being the third term of Obama, and the idea that the White House believes that a tilt towards Iran and away from US allies is a good idea is a very bad harbinger for the next four years.

Note also that even President Obama had no problem saying that the US was a strong ally of Israel.

Perhaps, as Elder suggests, the absence of a phone call, in and of itself, is not very important. Or maybe that was true, up to a point. Now, however, it points to a deliberate diss, as time goes by—an entire month in which a certain phone in Israel just doesn’t ring.

People are talking about it, leaders are speaking out, calling the lack of a phone call from Biden to Bibi an insult. It means something that the phone call hasn’t happened. The delay is a statement of malignant intent.

Taking a step back and looking at the big picture only makes things look worse. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican, is stripped from her committee roles as a result of airing her despicable conspiracy theories among them some that are antisemitic. Far left antisemite Ilhan Omar, on the other hand, is elevated in status, having been appointed vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights.

Should someone like Ilhan Omar have a say on foreign affairs? Someone who applauds Biden for stripping the Houthis of their designation as a terrorist organization?
Someone who tweets: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and let them see the evil doings of Israel.” Someone who publicly expresses hunger for the ICC to prosecute American ally Israel for imaginary war crimes?
But then again, Jen Psaki can’t say that Israel is a US ally. And that is the new reality: Israel, apparently, is no longer America's greatest ally in the Middle East. Which just goes to show that with Jobama in office, you can lead Netanyahu to wait and wait by the phone, but you can’t make it ring.

 *On reviewing this piece, Elder pointed out the time difference between Israel and the US. It would have been Shabbos in Israel only if Sullivan called Ben-Shabbat before 11 am EST. 

UPDATE: Biden finally called Netanyahu just as this piece was coming out. But the point was made. It took Biden an entire month to call, as the whole world was watching, and talking. We got the message: this will not be an Israel-friendly administration.


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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