Israeli religious singer’s rebuff of Biden handshake gets presidential kosher stamp

US Ambassador Nides posts video to Yuval Dayan saying president greatly appreciated both her performance and her adherence to religious values

Left to right, US president Joe Biden, President Isaac Herzog, singers Ran Dankner and Yuval Dayan during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left to right, US president Joe Biden, President Isaac Herzog, singers Ran Dankner and Yuval Dayan during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Not only was US President Joe Biden not offended when an Israeli female singer refused to shake his hand, but he was impressed at her dedication to her religious values, the American ambassador to Israel clarified Tuesday.

Yuval Dayan sparked controversy last week when she performed at a ceremony honoring Biden during his visit to Israel. Biden approached Dayan after her rendition of “Let It Be” and offered his hand, but Dayan instead clasped her own two together and bowed.

Dayan explained later that she did so because she has committed to refraining from touching members of the opposite sex for reasons of modesty. But many said she should have made an exception to avoid embarrassing the US president.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides stepped in Tuesday to settle the dispute in a video he posted to Dayan’s Instagram account.

Nides said he wanted to send the message to Dayan to thank her for her performance.

“The president was so appreciative of what you did, on behalf of the Israeli people, and the American president as well as for you being true to your religious values.”

Dayan responded by thanking those who had offered her support so far and by saying Nides’s video was the final answer to her critics.

Last Thursday, Dayan and another singer, Ran Danker, performed at a ceremony marking Biden’s receipt of Israel’s highest civilian honor. Afterward, Biden and President Isaac Herzog approached the artists to thank them.

Danker took Biden’s outstretched hand but Dayan gave her controversial response instead.

Dayan is famous in Israel in part for becoming more religiously observant, embracing the principle of shomer negiah, a prohibition on opposite-sex touching that some Orthodox Jews believe is required, as well as not performing on Shabbat or Jewish holidays.

The prohibition is rooted in the idea that any touch can lead to sexual impropriety.

Some critics said Dayan should nonetheless have bent the rule and pointed to the example of Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to the UK.

When Hotovely, who is Orthodox, became deputy foreign minister in 2015 while serving as a Likud lawmaker, she said she would shake hands with men who offered her theirs despite ordinarily refraining from touching. She noted that traditional Jewish law makes allowances for honoring dignitaries.

“Respect and human dignity are values that I was raised on and which I will raise my children on in the future,” Dayan wrote in a Facebook post on Friday after her actions drew widespread criticism.

“I ask all those who claimed that I have no respect to take back their words and apologize — not to me — but to my parents,” she wrote.

The incident with Biden went viral in Israel Thursday. Dayan, who came to fame as a contestant on Israel’s version of “The Voice,” said she had sought to avoid the appearance of slighting Biden and had communicated her needs to Herzog’s staff.

“I made sure to notify everyone in the president’s office that I am shomeret negiah,” she said, according to Israeli media. “God forbid, I did not mean to offend.”

She reiterated the claim in her Friday Facebook post, saying she had repeatedly informed multiple officials at Herzog’s residence. “They were joking that even the olive trees at the President’s Residence knew that Yuval Dayan was shomeret negiah.”

“Anyone who knows me, from age zero, knows that I did not do this maliciously and that I don’t like being involved in public hysteria,” she wrote.

Biden, himself, had raised handshake etiquette issues on his trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, preferring to fist bump some. The White House indicated it was for COVID protection reasons, while others speculated it was designed to avoid having to shake hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is alleged to have ordered the death of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

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