‘Israelis Are Furious’: Netanyahu Loyalists Attack Biden Over East Jerusalem Visit

U.S. President Biden is set to visit the Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is run by German Lutherans and has a strict policy of never allowing Israeli officials to attend media events in order to retain its independence

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Visitors exiting the Augusta Victoria Hospital on Monday, ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's visit on Friday.
Visitors exiting the Augusta Victoria Hospital on Monday, ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's visit on Friday.Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

Israeli right-wing politicians, pundits and activists, some of them with ties to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, have blasted U.S. President Joe Biden over his plan to visit a hospital in East Jerusalem on Friday without any Israeli officials alongside him.

When Biden landed in Israel on Wednesday afternoon, one of the many Israeli politicians waiting there to greet him was Netanyahu, who even received a rare and warm handshake from the U.S. president.

At the same time, however, a Christian activist who presents himself online as a member of Netanyahu’s digital media team was slamming Biden and comparing him negatively to previous U.S. President Donald Trump.

Hananya Naftali, followed by more than a million users on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, took to all three platforms to let the world know that Israelis are “furious” at Biden, charging that the U.S. president was “de facto dividing Jerusalem with his visit. What a shame.”

The reason behind the fury, Naftali explained, were the conditions surrounding Biden’s scheduled visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.

“President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, and moved the U.S. Embassy there,” Naftali said in the video, accompanied by images of Trump at the Western Wall. “Now Biden plans to visit the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and his team is refusing to allow Israeli health officials to join the hospital visit in Israel’s undivided capital.”

Haaretz reached out to Netanyahu’s office to ask whether Naftali’s comments also represented the opposition leader’s views, and was told that Naftali “helps sometimes with photography but isn’t part of the team.”

The U.S. flag flying near the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI - AFP

Naftali, however, presents himself online as “part of [Netanyahu’s] digital team for the past three years.” He helped produce a political ad for Netanyahu two weeks ago that attacked Israel’s current government for rising gas prices.

Following the publication of this article, and after repeated requests for a comment, Naftali told Haaretz: "My opinions are my own and do not represent anyone but myself."

Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, who was appointed to the position by Netanyahu and recently announced that he will run for a place on the Likud slate in the November election, warned in an article that Biden’s East Jerusalem visit could cause “diplomatic harm” to Israel.

He urged Prime Minister Yair Lapid to push back and “not give up our sovereignty in Jerusalem.”

The hospital visit has also drawn criticism from Channel 14 – the pro-Netanyahu television channel that is aiming to become Israel’s version of Fox News. Anchors and pundits attacked both Biden and Lapid over the matter, describing it as an “insult” to Israel that no Israeli officials will join the president there.

Biden’s visit to the hospital will be the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to East Jerusalem outside of the Old City, which is where holy sites such as the Western Wall are situated.

Behind the scenes, there has been considerable wrangling over the refusal of the U.S. government to allow Israeli officials to accompany Biden inside the hospital, which is run by the Lutheran World Federated Department for World Service. The German Lutherans co-founded the facility with the UN Relief and Works Agency after the 1948-49 War of Independence to care for Palestinian refugees.

At the hospital, Biden is expected to announce a funding initiative for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, alongside similar donations from Gulf states.

Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem attorney specializing in the geopolitics of contemporary Jerusalem and familiar with the hospital’s work, said the barring of Israeli officials stemmed from a long-standing hospital policy.

“Throughout the years, there have been a number of state visits to the hospital, including the German president and other high-level visitors. It’s an attractive site for many reasons: its location, the good work they do, and their good relationships with both the Palestinians and the Israeli government,” Seidemann explained.

He noted that when Biden toured Israel in 2010 while serving as vice president, his wife Jill visited the Augusta Victoria Hospital.

Seidemann said the policy of refusing to let Israeli officials accompany visiting dignitaries was not “adversarial,” but a policy that is in place in order to reinforce their independence.

Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem earlier this week.Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

“When the visits happen, invariably, the hospital always says ‘We will accept the guests but no Israeli officials, and not even police.’ The Israelis are always adamant – but the church is always more adamant. This is not an ‘in-your-face’ move or something that came up specifically because of the Biden visit. It’s something that’s been in place for many years,” he said.

Ben Samuels contributed reporting to this article.

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