Israeli President Isaac Herzog met with US President Joe Biden and addressed Congress in his first official visit to Washington. His visit was meant to demonstrate the Democrats’ unwavering support for Israel, but it also faced protests by some US lawmakers and activists who condemned Israel’s abuses against Palestinians.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrived in Washington on Monday for a two-day visit at the invitation of US President Joe Biden. The visit was the first official one by Herzog since he assumed office in July 2022, and it aimed to strengthen the ties between the US and Israel, two key allies in the Middle East. Herzog met with Biden at the White House on Tuesday, where they discussed various issues, such as Iran’s nuclear program, regional security, climate change, and COVID-19. He also spoke to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, where he thanked the US for its support for Israel and called for enhancing the cooperation between the two countries.
Herzog’s visit was seen as an attempt to show the Democrats’ unconditional backing for Israel and to heal the wounds that emerged during the previous administration of Donald Trump. Trump had adopted a pro-Israel stance that alienated many Democrats and Palestinians. He recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the US embassy there, cut aid to Palestinians, and endorsed Israel’s annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.
However, Herzog’s visit also coincided with escalating violence against Palestinians in the occupied territories, where Israeli forces have killed dozens of protesters and injured hundreds more in recent weeks. The protesters are demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, its expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and its discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Herzog’s visit was met with protests by some US lawmakers and activists who boycotted his speech and urged Biden to pressure Israel to end its violations of Palestinian rights. They also criticized Herzog for visiting the US amid Israel’s attempts to limit the power of its judiciary through a controversial “overhaul” that could undermine democracy and human rights.
According to a joint statement issued by the White House, Herzog and Biden reaffirmed their “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security and agreed to work together to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region. They also discussed ways to advance peace and stability in the Middle East, including by supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, some analysts have questioned whether Biden will be able to influence Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, given his reluctance to confront Herzog or his coalition partner Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett is a hardline nationalist who opposes a Palestinian state and supports expanding settlements.
Biden has also faced criticism from some human rights groups and progressive Democrats for approving a $735 million arms sale to Israel earlier this year, despite Israel’s deadly attacks on Gaza in May that killed more than 250 Palestinians. Biden has said that he supports replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which he claims saved lives during the conflict.
Herzog delivered his speech to Congress on Wednesday, marking the first time an Israeli president has addressed both chambers of the US legislature. He praised the US-Israel relationship as “a bond of brothers” and expressed his gratitude for the US support for Israel over the years.
He also called for strengthening the ties between the two countries in various fields, such as innovation, trade, culture, education, and health. He said that Israel and the US share common values and interests, such as democracy, freedom, human dignity, and fighting terrorism.
He also urged Congress to stand with Israel against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. He said that Iran poses a “grave threat” to Israel’s existence and to regional stability. He added that Israel will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons or threaten its security.
However, Herzog’s speech was boycotted by some US lawmakers who accused him of ignoring Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. Among them were Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Cori Bush, who are members of the progressive “Squad” and vocal critics of Israel.
They also joined a protest outside the Capitol, where they spoke to hundreds of activists who denounced Israel’s occupation, apartheid, and oppression of Palestinians. They called for ending US military aid to Israel and holding it accountable for its crimes.