Since President Biden took office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been waiting for the traditional courtesy call from the Oval Office. After all, both Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama reached the prime minister within days of taking their oaths of office.
Israel patiently waiting for a phone call from Biden
But three weeks into his term, as Biden has worked deep into his Rolodex of world leaders without dialing Netanyahu’s Balfour Street office, much of Israel’s political class is ready to declare it a full-blown diplomatic snub. In the president’s “thundering silence,” some see a long-feared frosty tumble from the warm embrace Netanyahu enjoyed with Trump.
“Biden and his aides aim to tell Netanyahu, ‘You’re nothing special,’” security analyst Yossi Melman wrote in the daily Haaretz. “‘The personal connection and chemistry you had with Donald Trump not only fail to advance your standing in Washington, they’re an obstacle.’”
Officials in both capitals have dismissed the idea that Biden’s call log carries any coded rebuke of Israel or its head of government. The White House says that Biden is dialing region by region and that the Middle East is coming up.
The president’s first calls, to Mexico and Canada, and to European and Asian capitals, addressed issues including immigration, trade, climate change, NATO and containing China, according to reports. The White House has also been consumed by a raging pandemic and economic crisis.
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“There’s no reason for any drama,” said Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, who expects Netanyahu’s phone to ring soon. “Biden took office at a time of national emergency that no president has faced since FDR. The calls he has conducted reflect those priorities.”
Netanyahu himself downplayed the possibility that he was being slighted by the new president. The prime minister noted that he and Biden have known each other for decades and that he called Biden soon after he was declared the winner of the election in November.
“He is making calls to world leaders according to the order he sees fit,” Netanyahu said when questioned about Biden during an appearance with the Greek prime minister in Jerusalem this week. “The Israel-U.S. alliance is strong, and so is our friendship of almost 40 years, though we may not agree on everything.”
Asked about when Biden might place the call, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that he “looks forward” to speaking with Netanyahu. “He’s obviously somebody that he has a long-standing relationship with, and obviously there’s an important relationship that the United States has with Israel on the security front and as a key partner in the region. But he’ll be talking with him soon,” Psaki said. She added that she did not have a specific date or time.