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Israeli President: Bond With US ‘Absolutely Unbreakable’


Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks at a joint meeting of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, July 19, 2023, as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy look on.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks at a joint meeting of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, July 19, 2023, as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy look on.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog declared Wednesday that the Jewish state’s friendship with the United States is secure and forged in shared democratic values, even as some U.S. lawmakers assail Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its right-wing government’s attempt to diminish the authority of the country’s Supreme Court.

“Israel and the United States will inevitably disagree on many matters,” Herzog told a joint meeting of Congress. “But we will always remain family. Our evolutionary societies have so much to give to the world and so much to learn from each other. Our bond may be challenged at times, but it is absolutely unbreakable.”

Nine Democratic members of the House of Representatives boycotted Herzog’s speech, including Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress.

His speech, however, was attended by a broad collection of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy standing along with hundreds of legislators to applaud Herzog several times as he spoke.

Lawmakers have boycotted speeches by previous visiting leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to Congress last month.

Herzog acknowledged the dissent among U.S. lawmakers, saying, “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,” Herzog said. “Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism. Vilifying and attacking Jews, whether in Israel, in the United States, or anywhere in the world is antisemitism.”

Herzog's address came amid U.S. concerns about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to revise the Israeli court system to curb its power to review legislative actions and the expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

“It’s no secret that over the past few months, the Israeli people have engaged in a heated and painful debate,” Herzog said. “We have been immersed in voicing our differences and revisiting and renegotiating the balance of our institutional powers in the absence of a written constitution. In practice, the intense debate going on back home, even as we speak, is the clearest tribute to the fortitude of Israel’s democracy.”

He said, “Israel’s democracy has always been based on free and fair elections, on honoring the people’s choice, on safeguarding minority rights, on protection of human and civil liberties, and on a strong and independent judiciary.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday reaffirming U.S. support for Israel.

The resolution came in response to comments by Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, who called Israel a “racist state.” Jayapal later clarified that she believes Netanyahu’s government “has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government.”

Herzog praised new Israeli links to several Arab countries in the Middle East and said he hopes Israel will be able to forge new ties to Saudi Arabia.

The Israeli president said he hopes one day for peace with Palestinians.

But, he said, “Palestinian terror against Israel or Israelis undermines any possibility for a future of peace between our peoples. Israelis are targeted while waiting for buses, while taking a stroll on the promenade, while spending time with their family.”

“At the same time,” Herzog added, “Successful terror attacks are celebrated, terrorists are glorified, and their families are financially rewarded for every Israeli they attack. This is inconceivable. It is a moral disgrace.”

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