Israel’s ceremonial President, Isaac Herzog addressed the U.S Congress on Wednesday, July 19, 2023.
Herzog’s speech to a joint session of Congress marked the second from an Israeli President, after his father, Chaim Herzog, did so in 1987.
In his address, Herzog described the U.S.-Israeli relationship as a “sacred bond.” He addressed Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who travelled to Israel earlier this year to commemorate Israel’s 75th anniversary.
“Your sincere expression of friendship on behalf of the United States truly resonated with the Israelis,” he said. He also thanked Vice President Kamala Harris for her support.
Herzog recounted the overwhelming bipartisan support for the state of Israel and the Jewish people going back to Harry Truman’s recognition of the state of Israel in 1948.
“The people of Israel are grateful to no end for the ancient promise fulfilled and for the friendship we have formed,” he said.
The Israeli President also indirectly addressed deep unease in the Biden administration and among Democratic lawmakers over the Netanyahu government’s controversial overhaul of Israel’s judicial system, expanded Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, and other matters.
The divide was reflected in the audience of House and Senate members. While lawmakers in attendance repeatedly rose to their feet in thundering applause of Herzog’s recounting of Israel’s founding, a handful of leading young progressive Democrats boycotted his speech.
Many of the progressive Democrats who boycotted Herzog’s speech did so because of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Moreover, Herzog noted that he respects criticism of the state of Israel.
“Mr. Speaker, I am not oblivious to criticism among friends, including some expressed by respected members of this House. I respect criticism, especially from friends, although one does not always have to accept it.
“But criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the state of Israel’s right to exist. Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism.”Isaac Herzog
Even though he admitted faults in Israel’s democracy, Herzog defended Israel’s record on human rights and minority protections.
Herzog averred, “Our democracy is also reflected in protesters taking to the streets all across the country to emphatically raise their voices and fervently demonstrate their point of view.”
“I am well aware of the imperfections of Israeli democracy, and I am conscious of the questions posed by our greatest of friends. The momentous debate in Israel is painful and deeply unnerving, because it highlights the cracks within the whole.”Isaac Herzog
Israel is currently experiencing series of protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed plan to overhaul the judiciary.
Herzog Stresses Need To Prevent Nuclear Expansion In Iran
Additionally, Herzog highlighted the need to prevent a nuclear Iran, saying that Iran does not strive to attain nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
“Iran is building nuclear capabilities that pose a threat to the stability of the Middle and beyond. Every country or region controlled or infiltrated by Iran has experienced utter havoc.”Isaac Herzog
Moreover, he urged the U.S to continue building on peace agreements with Israel’s Arab neighbours such as Jordan and Egypt, as well as the Abraham Accords, which is former President Donald Trump’s peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Morocco and Bahrain.
“This is a peace anchored in trust, hope and prosperity. Each of these historic agreements, which have altered the trajectory of the Middle East, was facilitated by our greatest friend, the United States of America.”Isaac Herzog
Finally, Herzog asserted that the United States and Israel’s support for each other was in each other’s best interest.
“When the United States is strong, Israel is stronger, and when Israel is strong, the United States is more secure,” he said to applause.