Israeli President Herzog Receives Standing Ovation for Speech to Congress, Progressive Caucus Members Boycott

Israel's President Herzog addresses Congress 7-19-23. (Credit: Hananya Naftali)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a standing ovation for his Wednesday address to Congress in which he stressed the importance of the U.S.- Israel relationship. The House, meanwhile, on Tuesday passed a Republican-led resolution on a 412-9-1 vote reaffirming its support for Israel, an implicit rebuke of Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who recently caused controversy by calling Israel a “racist state.”

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Herzog’s position is largely symbolic, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the most powerful politician in the country. Nevertheless, symbolism is important, as Herzog’s speech showed. He started with a thank you:

Speaker McCarthy, I thank you for hosting this festive joint session of Congress celebrating the first 75 years of the State of Israel. Just a few weeks ago, during your first trip abroad as Speaker, you honored the Israeli people by addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Your sincere expression of friendship on behalf of the United States of America truly resonated with the Israelis. Thank you.

Then, in an obvious swipe at anti-Israel politicians like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and other members of the Progressive Caucus, he warned that criticism of his country is acceptable—but only if the nation’s right to exist is not questioned. Those pushing that line of thought are anti-Semitic in his view:

…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.

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He went on to describe the importance of the ties between the two countries:

Yet today, at this moment in my people’s history, gathering on Capitol Hill to celebrate 75 years of Israeli independence with our greatest partner and friend, the United States of America, my soul is overflowing with pride and joy. The people of Israel are grateful to no end for the ancient promise fulfilled and for the friendship we have formed.

President Herzog expressed his deep concern over Iran and its nuclear program, saying they were a threat to Israel’s very existence:

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the greatest challenge Israel and the United States face at this time, is the Iranian nuclear program.

Let there be no doubt: 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 East and beyond.

Iran is the only nation on the planet publicly calling, plotting, and developing means to annihilate another nation, a member of the family of nations, the State of Israel.

Most importantly, perhaps, Israel’s president spoke about the friendship between our two nations and how by working together, we keep each other safer:

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Mr. Speaker, we are proud to be the United States’ closest partner and friend. We are grateful to the United States for the necessary means you have provided us to keep our qualitative military edge, and to enable us to defend ourselves, by ourselves. This reflects your ongoing commitment to Israel’s security. We are also tremendously proud that ours is a two-way alliance, in which Israel has been making critical contributions to the national security and interests of the United States in numerous ways.

Still, not everyone was on board. At least five members of the Progressive Caucus didn’t even show up to watch the speech. Ilhan Omar said there was “no way in hell” she’d show up, while AOC expressed similar sentiments:

While Herzog is sure to feel good about his reception at the Capitol Wednesday, relations between the two countries have been tense, and some feel that President Joe Biden has not been supportive enough. Joe spoke with Netanyahu by telephone, however, before Herzog’s address:

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Just before Herzog’s visit, Mr. Biden spoke with Netanyahu by phone and invited him to meet in the U.S. this fall, although the president expressed reservations about several of the policies from Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition.

The Biden administration declined to say whether Mr. Biden would host Netanyahu at the White House — as the Israeli leader has hoped — or in New York on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

White House visits are typically standard protocol for Israeli prime ministers, and the delay in Netanyahu receiving one has become an issue in Israel, with opponents citing it as a reflection of deteriorating relations with the U.S.

Read the full text here.

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