From Presidential Fist Bumps to Handshakes, Biden Breaks COVID-19 Rules in Israel Visit

Visiting U.S. President Joe Biden began by adhering to protocol by offering fist bumps – but then began giving handshakes to Bennett and Netanyahu

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U.S. President Joe Biden bumps fists with Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid following his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Wednesday.
U.S. President Joe Biden bumps fists with Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid following his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Wednesday.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

President Joe Biden did not follow the COVID-19 safety protocol by shaking hands with Israel's leaders after stepping off of Air Force One in Israel on Wednesday.

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Biden began by adhering to protocol by offering fist bumps as he made his way down the reception line meeting President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Lapid, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and then U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides. Biden then put his arm around Lapid’s shoulder as they walked down the tarmac together.

Several minutes later, Biden began violating his own “no handshakes” protocol as he approached ministers and other leaders lined up to greet him and take an official photograph. After seeing Bennett again, and apparently acting out of instinct, Bennett offered Biden his hand – and the U.S. president shook it, and patted him on the arm.

Biden then extended his hand to former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was standing behind Bennett. Netanyahu not only shook Biden’s hand, but held it in an extended grasp and pulled him closer for a greeting.

An American public announcement had been made ahead of time that, in a nod to COVID-19 pandemic safety there would be no handshakes, but it had been unclear what would replace the traditional greeting of visiting leaders.

Local commentators have suggested, however, that the public declaration that Biden will forgo shaking the hands of dignitaries is a way for him to avoid diplomatic discomfort on the next leg of his trip to Saudi Arabia.

There he will be faced with the delicate matter of greeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS. A "no handshake" policy will help him avoid the appearance of a friendly get-together with a man who the U.S. has held responsible for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

That theory was reinforced when, while visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Biden eagerly and warmly clasped the hands of Holocaust survivors Rena Quint and Giselle Cycowicz throughout his extended conversation with them.

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