President Biden’s recently completed trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia was a tale of two family visits. But these were two very different families.
The warmth that Biden received and returned in Israel was obvious, and unsurprising. Beginning with his arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, he seemed among kin, and he was greeted that way. Noting that it was his 10th visit to Israel, Biden remarked that it was “like returning home.” Israeli President Isaac Herzog welcomed him as “our brother Joseph,” and the top officials in the American delegation mingled with their Israeli counterparts with smiles, embraces and back pats that had the appearance of a college reunion.
Biden, who entered the Oval Office with more experience in the mind-splitting complexities of the Middle East than any of his predecessors, wasted no time standing up once again to Democratic leftists who’ve been irreversibly snookered by a fundamentally antisemitic BDS movement. Asked by an Israeli interviewer about the slice of Democrats who have supported sanctions against Israel and voted against funding a defensive anti-missile system deployed to protect Israeli civilians from rockets intended to murder them, Biden pulled no punches. “There are a few of them,” Biden replied. “I think they’re wrong. I think they’re mistaken.”
The run-up to Biden’s trip to Israel was attended by knowledgeable-sounding reports that his schedule would have to be curtailed so he could rest after a long flight. The president then proceeded to do what seemed like 137 separate events over his two days in-country: here conferring with Prime Minister Yael Lapid, there sitting with elderly American Holocaust survivors, here meeting with Herzog, there cheering on 1,400 American athletes participating in an international sporting competition.
Biden’s display must have disappointed Republicans, who feverishly treat any word misread off the presidential teleprompter as evidence that Biden is not “up to the job,” but whose once and future hero passed his four years in the White House clicking the television remote and riding in golf carts. Biden, who keeps himself admirably fit, looked positively like an Olympic swimmer standing next to 86-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 17th year of a four-year term. It’s a wonder that Donald Trump never felt a stronger affinity for Abbas, who proves year after year that it is indeed possible to stay in office long after the law says you have to leave it.
Then it was on to a meeting with Arab leaders in Jeddah, which began with the fist bump scrutinized ’round the world between Biden and Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto head of the Saudi royal family. MBS, assessed by American intelligence to have ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is the loathsome face of a loathsome regime. Trouble is, on everything from energy costs burdening American families to the burgeoning malign alliance between Russia and Iran, Saudi Arabia is positioned to be helpful. Presidents, alas, cannot ignore facts like this. Editorial writers can, and that Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia was criticized by Rand Paul on one side and Bernie Sanders on the other is prima facie evidence that under the circumstances the trip made sense.
As for the much ballyhooed fist bump, from the breathless media coverage afforded it one might suppose it signified “Great to see you again, old buddy!” rather than “I had to come here and I had to do something and I ain’t shaking his hand.” If there’s ever been a more unsmiling state visit than this one, it doesn’t come to mind.
For his part, Barack Obama sent not only greetings but tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Iran’s God-awful leaders. As for Trump, think “love letters” to North Korean madman Kim Jung-un and four years of fawning over Vladimir Putin, the slaughterer then and now of thousands of Ukrainians.
For Joe Biden, it’s now back to America, and more fun at home.
Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
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