Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s recent trip to Washington included an address to a joint session of Congress regarding Israel’s 75th anniversary and the concerning current relationship between the United States and Israel. It is a slight improvement in relations between the two countries. Meanwhile, this week, and for the first time since returning to office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to Washington, although it is unclear if it will be at the White House. While a visit to the United States has been an annual occasion for every Israeli Prime Minister, a visit this year has not yet occurred.
Netanyahu has made an address to a joint session of Congress before, but Herzog’s was different, moving, and more of a message of strength, connection, and unity.
Politics runs deep within the Herzog family. Israel’s sixth president and the late father of the current Israeli president, Chaim Herzog, once stood on November 10th, 1987, to mark Israel’s 40th year of independence at the very same podium in which his son stood to mark the Jewish state’s 75th year of independence. In 1949, Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, who was the grandfather of the current Israeli President, met in the Oval Office with US President Harry Truman to thank him for being the first world leader to recognize the state of Israel, 11 minutes after its founding. Herzog recalled that meeting during his speech and also had President Truman’s grandson, Cliffton, present.
Herzog’s address to Congress comes after controversial comments were made by US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, in which she called Israel a “racist state.” Jayapal, along with other progressive members of Congress, did not attend the speech. One day before the address, the House overwhelmingly voted to approve a bill supporting Israel and condemning antisemitism.
“Vilifying and attacking Jews, whether in Israel, in the United States, or anywhere in the world is antisemitism. Antisemitism is a disgrace in every form, and I commend President Joe Biden for laying out the United States’ first ever National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism,” said Herzog.
He also voiced that criticizing Israel cannot cross the line into questioning Jewish people’s rights to self-determination. Antisemitic incidents are at a record high.
This comes a week after US President Joe Biden made comments on Israel’s “most extreme” government members.
“Today, my dear friends, we are provided the opportunity to reaffirm and redefine the future of our relationship,” Herzog said in his address.
This year has been an unprecedented year for Israel. In the first 6 months of 2023, United Hatzalah recorded 3,640 terror-related incidents, including 2,118 cases of rock-throwing, 799 cases involving Molotov cocktails, 18 attempted stabbings, and 6 car rammings. Aside from the increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence, the judicial overhaul controversy remains the top-watched issue. Engaging in debate is important for both Americans and Israelis.
“We are all experiencing a tumultuous shift in balance, evident in countless areas: geopolitical unrest, big power competition, catastrophic war in Ukraine, pandemics, climate crisis, the unknown of artificial intelligence, energy shortages, food insecurity, scarcity of water and desertification, global terror, social polarization, and the attempts to destabilize democracy.”
As President Herzog nearly concluded at the end of his speech: “Israel and the United States will inevitably disagree on many matters. But we will always remain family. Our revolutionary 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.”
Even as tensions rise and times are changing, Israel is adapting while maintaining its ancient roots. The so-called “startup nation” is a leader in technology, aid, security, diversity, and business, and the country’s impact is felt all over the world. When two countries support each other, they are truly stronger.