Biden tries punches instead of handshakes ahead of Saudi crown prince meeting


President Biden greets Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid with a fist bump at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

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President Biden greets Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid with a fist bump at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Evan Vucci/AP

JERUSALEM — When President Biden stepped off Air Force One on Wednesday, he did something he hadn’t done in a while. Instead of shaking hands with the first politician to greet him on the red carpet – Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid – he gave him a fist bump.

It’s a change that comes amid intense speculation over whether or not Biden will shake hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman when he meets him on Friday.

Body language between US presidents and their global counterparts is always closely watched for insight into their relationships. When Biden meets bin Salman, it will be a particularly difficult time. US intelligence believed bin Salman approved the 2018 operation that resulted in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden later said he would make Saudi Arabia “the outcast that they are” and he has come under pressure from human rights groups over his decision to visit the kingdom.

Biden has since stressed that there are broad US national security interests in making the visit to Saudi Arabia. He wrote last week that his aim was to “reorient – but not sever – relations with a country that has been a strategic partner for 80 years”. But the White House was reluctant to say in advance whether Biden would agree to be photographed greeting bin Salman, as is normally the custom during such visits.


President Biden threw his arm around the shoulders of Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

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President Biden threw his arm around the shoulders of Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Just before Biden landed in Tel Aviv, White House officials suggested the president would try to minimize direct contact, such as handshakes, during his trip to the Middle East. They said it was a heightened precaution for COVID-19, even though the virus is known to be spread primarily through the air.

“We are now in a phase of the pandemic where we are looking to reduce contact and increase masking,” Jake Sullivan told reporters on the plane.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the idea that it had anything to do with avoiding a lasting photo of Biden shaking hands with bin Salman – or even that there was a change in the practice.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a change,” she told reporters. “We say we will try to minimize contact as much as possible. But also, there are precautions that we take because it depends on his doctor,” she said, noting an increase in cases linked to BA. . -5 variant of the virus.


President Biden greets House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the White House Congressional Picnic, held just before he leaves for Israel on Tuesday.

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President Biden greets House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the White House Congressional Picnic, held just before he leaves for Israel on Tuesday.

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Biden shook a lot of hands in the hours leading up to his trip

But it was a heavy load from the days leading up to Biden’s trip to the Middle East. On Tuesday, just hours before his departure, Biden worked a crowd of hundreds of lawmakers and their families on the White House lawn at the annual Congressional picnic – shaking lots of hands, hugging and hustling to take selfies.


Hours before flying to Israel, President Biden got the crowd working at the Congressional Picnic at the White House, shaking hands with lawyers like Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.

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Hours before flying to Israel, President Biden got the crowd working at the Congressional Picnic at the White House, shaking hands with lawyers like Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.

Patrick Semansky/AP

The picnic followed another big White House event on Monday, where lawmakers and gun safety advocates gathered to mark the passage of gun safety legislation.

And last week, guests gathered in the East Room of the White House, where Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 people.


President Biden met on Monday with families affected by gun violence, including Garnell Whitfield, Jr., whose mother was killed in a shooting in Buffalo in May.

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President Biden met on Monday with families affected by gun violence, including Garnell Whitfield, Jr., whose mother was killed in a shooting in Buffalo in May.

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Biden may struggle to stop himself from shaking hands

Biden, who has been a politician for more than 50 years, makes no secret of his love of meeting leaders face to face, a style of personal diplomacy where handshakes are customary.

As he walked the red carpet at Tel Aviv airport, there were a few pats on the back and slaps on the shoulders to go along with the punches. He put his arm around Prime Minister Lapid.


President Biden shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a tour of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

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President Biden shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a tour of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

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Later, while receiving a tour of defense equipment, Biden stopped for a long handshake with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

And while paying tribute to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center, Biden greeted two Holocaust survivors, kissing them.


At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Biden kissed Holocaust survivor Rena Quint, as his compatriot Giselle Cycowicz looked on.

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At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Biden kissed Holocaust survivor Rena Quint, as his compatriot Giselle Cycowicz looked on.

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Earlier, Sullivan had warned reporters that when it came to his boss’ propensity for shaking hands, he made no firm rules.

“I can’t talk about, you know, every moment, every interaction and every move,” he said aboard Air Force One. “It’s just kind of a general principle that we apply here.”

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