Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president, received a standing ovation during his address to Congress on Wednesday. In it, he highlighted the importance of U.S. – Israel relations. On Tuesday, the House passed a Republican resolution with a vote of 412-9-1 reaffirming their support for Israel. This was an implicit criticism of Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jajapal who caused controversy recently by calling Israel “a racist state”.
Herzog’s role is largely symbolic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is the most powerful political figure in the country. Herzog’s address showed that symbolism was important. He began by thanking everyone:
Speaker McCarthy, thank you for hosting the joint session of Congress to celebrate the first 75 Years of the State of Israel. You honored the Israelis by speaking to the Knesset, the capital of Israel, and the Jewish People, just a few short weeks ago during your first overseas trip as Speaker.
Israel has been touched by your sincere friendship expressed on behalf of America. Thank you.
He then warned, in an apparent swipe at anti-Israel politicians such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and other members of the Progressive Caucus that criticism of Israel is acceptable–but not if its right to exist is questioned. According to him, those who hold this view are anti-Semitic:
Criticism of Israel should not be interpreted as negating the right of Israel to exist. It is antisemitism to question the Jewish people’s self-determination.
He then went on to explain the importance of the relationship between the two nations:
My soul is filled with joy and pride today as we gather on Capitol Hill with the United States of America to celebrate 75 years of Israeli Independence. Israel is grateful for the fulfillment of an ancient promise and the friendship that we have built.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog at US Congress: “America is irreplaceable to Israel, and Israel is irreplaceable to America.” 🇮🇱🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/F1XEvbdyev
— Hananya Naftali (@HananyaNaftali) July 19, 2023
Herzog said that Iran’s nuclear program and the threat it poses to Israel are deeply concerning.
The Iranian nuclear program is perhaps the biggest challenge that Israel and the United States are facing at the moment.
There can be no doubt that Iran is not pursuing nuclear energy to achieve peaceful purposes. Iran is developing nuclear capabilities that are a threat to Middle East stability and beyond.
Iran is the only country on earth that publicly calls, plots, and develops means to destroy another nation, an Israeli member of the United Nations family.
Israel’s President spoke of the friendship between Israel and America, and how we can keep each other safe by working together.
We are proud, Mr. Speaker to be your closest friend and partner. We thank the United States, for providing us with the means to maintain our military edge and enable us to defend ourselves. Your continued commitment to Israel’s security is reflected in this. We are proud of our two-way relationship, where Israel has made a significant contribution to the security and interests of the United States.
Not everyone agreed. Five members of the Progressive Caucus did not even attend the speech. Ilhan Omar stated that she would “never in a million years” attend, while AOC also expressed similar sentiments.
Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on tomorrow’s address to Congress by Israeli President Isaac Herzog:
“I will not be attending. There’s currently a crisis of democracy and apartheid.” pic.twitter.com/aCnPsto3qD
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) July 18, 2023
Herzog will be pleased with the reception he received at the Capitol on Wednesday. However, the relations between the US and Israel have been tense. Some feel that Joe Biden’s support has been insufficient. Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu on the phone before Herzog’s speech:
Biden called Netanyahu just before Herzog’s trip and invited him to the U.S. in the fall. However, the president had reservations about some of the policies of Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition.
The Biden Administration declined to confirm whether Mr. Biden will host Netanyahu in the White House, as Israel’s leader had hoped, or in New York at the U.N. General Assembly in September.
White House visits for Israeli Prime Ministers are a standard protocol. The delay in Netanyahu’s receiving one is causing controversy in Israel. Opponents cite it as an indication of the deterioration in relations with the U.S.