Netanyahu heads to US, will meet Biden and Musk

This will be the first encounter between Netanyahu and Biden since the government was formed at the end of December 2022.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah take off for the USA on September 18, 2023. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah take off for the USA on September 18, 2023.
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took off Sunday night on his first official trip to the United States since the formation of his government approximately nine months ago.

Following a two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday, Netanyahu and his entourage departed for the airport. The highlight of his visit is anticipated to be his address at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on Friday morning Eastern Time.

"I am now leaving for the UN General Assembly where I will represent Israel before the nations of the world," the prime minister said as he boarded the plane. "I will also meet with many world leaders, especially President Biden, with whom I will discuss – first and foremost, but among other topics – Iran and expanding the circle of peace."

The White House and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had greenlit the long-awaited meeting between Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden, marking their first encounter since Netanyahu assumed office at the end of December 2022. While Netanyahu had been eagerly awaiting an invitation from the White House, it has yet to materialize. Instead, the two leaders are scheduled to meet at the UN on Wednesday, according to the PMO. Netanyahu is expected to discuss the Iranian issue with the US president.

During his visit, Netanyahu is expected to hold meetings with several additional international leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Schulz, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, South Korean President Yoon Seok-Yeol, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and others.

"I must say that it is moving to see the many requests for meetings," Netanyahu said. "Unfortunately, I cannot meet with all the leaders who made requests but I hope to meet with most of them."

Netanyahu will state at the UNGA that "Iran is violating all of its commitments, that it brazenly lies, and that it intends both to develop nuclear weapons and continue its aggression in the region. We will confront both of these together.

"I heard the threats from an official of the Iranian regime today; I suggest that he not threaten us. He and this regime need to know that we will respond forcefully to any attack on our people and our citizens."

Netanyahu to meet Elon Musk

One of the most intriguing aspects of this visit is Netanyahu's expected meeting with the unconventional US billionaire Elon Musk, who, among other ventures, owns X (formerly known as Twitter). Netanyahu plans to discuss potential investments in Israeli companies with Musk. Notably, this meeting will occur against escalating tensions between Musk and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the largest Jewish organization combating antisemitism in North America. X recently announced its lawsuit against the ADL for defamation following Musk's promotion of a hashtag initiated by Irish white nationalist and self-proclaimed "raging antisemite" Keith Woods.

Netanyahu said that Musk is "paving the way that will change the face of humanity and also the face of the State of Israel. Israel needs to be a leader in artificial intelligence. Just as we turned it into a leader in cyber, so we will do in this field as well."

Moreover, prominent Jewish organizations in the San Francisco area sought to arrange a meeting with Netanyahu during his visit to the region on Monday to address the concerning rise in antisemitism, both in physical incidents and on social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter). Regrettably, Netanyahu's office declined the invitation for a meeting. These organizations include the JCRC Bay Area, the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and the JCRC of Silicon Valley.

In an email, they expressed their expectations for significant media coverage and planned protests during Netanyahu's visit. They added that they had sent a letter to his office requesting a private forum for dialogue, which was declined. The PMO responded to The Jerusalem Post by stating that Netanyahu's West Coast schedule had already been arranged. 

Encounters with Jewish communal leaders expected

Nevertheless, on Friday, Netanyahu is expected to meet with leaders of major Jewish organizations, facilitated by the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan. This meeting marks the first intimate interaction of its kind in several years, with around 20 Jewish leaders from various religious affiliations invited.

Netanyahu met with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations while they were visiting Israel in February. Still, he just held a keynote speech, not a meeting with them about their concerns. According to sources organizing the meeting, approximately 20 Jewish leaders of all religious streams and affiliations are invited to meet with the Prime Minister.

On Monday, the international protest movement opposing judicial reforms, UnXeptable, is scheduled to host a demonstration at San Jose International Airport and a protest outside the Tesla Fremont Factory. Additional demonstrations are planned at Union Square in San Francisco and later at San Jose Airport. The event is expected to attract supporters of a free and democratic Jewish State of Israel from across the West Coast. 

Speakers at these protests will include Tyler Gregory, CEO of JCRC in the Bay Area, Rabbi Sydney Mintz, Senior Associate Rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El, SF, and others.

National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz said as Netanyahu left for the States: "The prime minister has the responsibility to reflect the reality as is. That's how it should be between friends and partners. We are in a period of tremendous security and political challenges facing us, the likes of which we have not seen since the Yom Kippur War. In this matter, the expected meeting with the US President is of great importance, and I would like to wish the prime minister success in his mission."