What Happened During President Biden’s Trip to Israel?

U.S. President Joe Biden touched down in Israel last Wednesday for his first trip to the Jewish state as president and his tenth in his lifetime. He first visited in 1973, meeting Prime Minister Golda Meir and future Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

“Every chance to return to this great country, where the ancient roots of the Jewish people date back to biblical times is a blessing,” he said today. “The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep, and generation after generation that connection grows as we invest in each other and dream together.”

Current Prime Minister Yair Lapid noted that Biden defined himself as a Zionist, a sentiment Biden agreed with, saying, “You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist.”

Biden’s visit included some noteworthy moments. He toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, as many U.S. presidents have done so its establishment in 1953, where he participated in a memorial ceremony and spoke with Holocaust survivors. He met with Israeli defense officials, which resulted in the Jerusalem Declaration, highlighted by its commitment to never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. 

But the trip was also considered to have not met expectations for many. “Biden had one central goal, and that is to try to temper the global energy crisis, through increasing production in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” said Moran Zaga, an expert on the Gulf region at the Mitvim Institute. “Everything outside of that in my view was a sort of decoration, an effort to divert attention to other places that suit the Bidenist policy – on liberalization, on peace, on rights, Palestinians.” 

While the Jerusalem Declaration and Yad Vashem visit were encouraging signs that reinforced the warm relations Israel and the U.S. share, it would have been nice to see a little more substance, especially on the Saudi front. Though Saudi Arabia announced that civilian air carriers could now fly in Saudi airspace, the nation’s foreign minister was quick to clarify that “this has nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel.” It appears not much progress was made in Israel’s desire for normalization with Saudi Arabia. A friendly visit with U.S. leadership is always a good thing for Israel, but it felt more run-of-the-mill than monumental, which makes Biden’s trip feel like a bit of a missed opportunity.