President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel last week, for the first leg of his four-day visit to the Middle East, reflected the remarkably strong bonds that have developed between Israel and the United States. Israel rolled out a warm and embracing welcome for their returning “brother Joseph,” and Biden clearly reveled in the joy of reuniting with dear friends.
Biden has a half-century relationship with Israel and had visited the country nine times before. This was, however, his first visit as president. Visits to Israel by the president of the United States are not a common occurrence. Indeed, in Israel’s early decades U.S. administrations kept the Jewish state at arm’s length. It wasn’t until 1974 that Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to make the trip, followed by visits by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
And now Biden — a man who declared on the welcoming tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport that “the connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep.” He showed that sentiment and emotion throughout his visit. For example, when Biden met two Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem, he asked them to sit when they rose to greet him. And he then knelt before the survivors as he spoke with them.
Biden left a wreath at Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance where he wrote a deeply touching message in the visitor’s book: “It is a great honor to be back — back to my emotional home. We must never, ever forget because hate is never defeated — it only hides. We must teach every emerging generation that it can happen again unless we remember. That is what I teach my children and grandchildren — never forget.”
Biden attended the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah games and spoke with the U.S. delegation of players. And he got a chance to see some of Israel’s defensive technology, including the new laser defense system, Iron Beam.
There were politically significant events, including meetings with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, former Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu and with President Isaac Herzog. During one meeting with Lapid, Biden signed a declaration that the United States will do all it can to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Biden also extended a very public and inviting hand to the Palestinians. He toured a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem, where he announced $316 million in aid for Palestinians. And he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas where he expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state, even as he acknowledged that the time was not right for peace talks.
In contrast to other aspects of his Middle East trip, Biden’s Israel visit had no drama, had no tension and was an easy lift. We join in celebrating the success of the visit and its reflection of the extraordinary relationship that has developed between the U.S. and Israel. May it continue to grow and strengthen.