President Joe Biden on Tuesday assured Israel's president that the friendship between their countries is "just simply unbreakable," amid Washington's concerns over events in Israel, including the leadership's push to amend the judicial system and recent settler violence in the West Bank.
Those words came during President Isaac Herzog's second visit to Biden's White House, an honor not yet accorded to the nation's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who began his sixth term in December.
"As I affirmed to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, America's commitment to Israel is firm," Biden said. "And it is ironclad. And we're committed, as well, to assure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. So we've got a lot to talk about."
After the meeting, the White House said the two also discussed Tehran's growing defense partnership with Moscow.
Herzog also addressed Biden's concerns over Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the country's judiciary, which has sparked 28 straight weeks of massive street protests by Israelis who say the plan pushes the nation toward autocracy.
"It's a heated debate, but it's also a virtue and a tribute to the greatness of Israeli democracy," he said. "And let me reiterate, clear, crystal clear: Israeli democracy is sound, strong, is resilient. We are going through pains. We are going through heated debates. We are going through challenging moments. But I truly, truly believe and I will say to you, Mr. President, as I've said it as head of state to the people of Israel, we should always seek to find amicable consensus."
Millions of Americans with ties to Israel are watching.
They include those who support conservative American politics and policies and tend to also support Netanyahu.
But the majority of Jewish Americans lean left.
And on Tuesday, as protests in Tel Aviv turned violent, a clutch of about a dozen protesters also stood outside the White House, bearing signs critical of Netanyahu.
"We stand in solidarity with the protesters," said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S., Reform Judaism. He spoke to VOA via Zoom from his office near Washington.
"It is the best, greatest hope for Israel to continue to thrive as an inclusive democracy. There are so many issues at stake: everything from women's rights to LGBTQIA equality, to the rights of different forms of Jewish expression, and frankly, other faith groups that would seek to have their rights protected in Israel," he said.
On recent violence in the West Bank, he said: "We need to end the violence. And this coalition government led by this prime minister and his incredibly problematic partners — Itamar Ben-Gvir, [Bezalel Yoel] Smotrich and the like, who have normalized violence by settlers and by vigilantes against Palestinians — is anti-Jewish, it's inhuman, and it needs to end."
Other Jewish groups, like the more conservative American Israel Public Affairs Committee, disagree. In an email, AIPAC declined to give VOA an interview.
That group blames Palestinian leaders for violence in the West Bank and seeks a more forceful response.
"The United States must continue its efforts to persuade and enable the Palestinian Authority to act responsibly and regain control of the areas now controlled by Iranian-backed terror groups," the group said in a recent memo.
Some Republicans are demanding the Biden administration stay out of Israel's affairs.
"What this Biden administration has done, I think, has been disgraceful," said Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, at this week's Christians United for Israel summit near Washington. "The way they treat a strong ally like Prime Minister Netanyahu has been disgraceful. What they're trying to do, to shoehorn Israel into bad policies has been disgraceful. You have different things that go on in Israel, like with this judicial reform. Biden needs to butt out of that and let Israel govern itself."
The White House said this week that the two leaders — Biden and Netanyahu — will meet in coming months but did not say when or where. After leaving the White House, Herzog speaks before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.