Israeli singer defends refusal to shake Biden’s hand on religious grounds

‘Those who say I have no respect should apologize to my parents,’ says Yuval Dayan, who claims she repeatedly informed staff at president’s residence of her beliefs

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

An Israeli pop star who caused an outcry in Israel when she refused to shake hands with visiting US President Joe Biden due to her religious beliefs, has defended her actions and called on her critics to apologize.

“Respect and human dignity are values that I was raised on and which I will raise my children on in the future,” Yuval 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.

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

Danker took Biden’s outstretched hand, but Dayan bowed instead, clasping her hands together and smiling.

Dayan said she did so because she has committed to refrain from touching members of the opposite sex for reasons of modesty. She 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.

But many said she should have made an exception to avoid embarrassing the US president, pointing to the example of Tzipi Hotovely, currently 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.

“It’s not a problem at all,” Hotovely told Israeli media at the time. “When someone meets foreign representatives the Jewish halacha [law] recognizes respect, etiquette and politeness.”

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely meets with Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek in Jerusalem on June 8, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

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 appearing to slight 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.

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets US President Joe Biden, with a fist bump after his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 15, 2022. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Biden on Friday held a carefully choreographed meeting with the Saudi crown prince, the man he had once shunned for human rights abuses, as the two leaders sought to reset one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships.

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