President Biden unexpectedly crossed himself Wednesday during a one-on-one meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in Midtown.
The 80-year-old Roman Catholic president made the conspicuous hand gesture — touching his forehead, stomach and left and right breast area with his right hand — as the Jewish leader began speaking.
“We’ve been friends for, I’ve checked it, over 40 years,” Netanyahu said, prompting Biden to make the sign of the cross in a possible joke about his own age.
However, the president did not explain his action and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The sign of the cross dates to early Christianity and is often used as a self-blessing during prayer.
Biden has had frosty relations with Netanyahu, a political conservative who worked closely with former President Donald Trump, and Biden has persistently criticized his counterpart’s proposals to limit the Israeli court system’s ability to review government actions.
Biden and Netanyahu both said Wednesday that they hoped to broker the establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel — building on the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords with other Arab countries.
During Trump’s final year in office, the governments of Muslim-majority Bahrain, Kosovo, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates established diplomatic relations with Israel as a result of US diplomacy.
“If you and I 10 years ago were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, I think we’d look at each other like, ‘Who has been drinking what?’” said Biden, whose administration led the opening of Saudi airspace to Israeli flights.
“Good Irish whiskey,” Netanyahu joked in response, later adding: “I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudi government has done business with Trump, who is seeking a rematch against Biden, and his family since the ex-president left office — including investing $2 billion with former first son-in-law Jared Kushner’s firm.