September 24, 2023

(The Hill) — Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday promised to “defend and defend” Israel’s democracy because it faces a disaster over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pursuit of a judicial overhaul and that has drawn unprecedented criticism from the U.S.

In a speech to a joint assembly of Congress marking Israel’s seventy fifth anniversary, Herzog known as Israeli protests towards Netanyahu and his authorities “painful, and deeply unnerving, as a result of it highlights the cracks inside the entire.” 

President Biden has urged Netanyahu to work with Herzog to succeed in an settlement with the political opposition to desert a few of the most controversial measures of the federal government’s judicial overhaul plan, which critics say would neuter the nation’s Supreme Court docket and undermine its democracy. 

“As head of state, I’ll proceed doing every part to succeed in a broad public consensus, and to protect, defend and defend the State of Israel’s democracy,” Herzog mentioned to lawmakers.

Herzog’s go to to Washington, and his tackle to Congress, served as an try by the Biden administration to bridge the divides in his celebration — reinforcing Democratic help for Israel with out legitimizing Netanyahu’s controversial authorities. 

Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Monday because the Israeli president arrived in Washington and agreed to fulfill within the fall in the US, however has not but prolonged an express invitation to the White Home.

Democratic divisions have been obvious on Wednesday, when a minimum of seven progressives skipped the Israeli president’s speech. They included Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.). 

A few of these lawmakers have denounced Israel as an apartheid state and condemned Netanyahu’s authorities as racist – crucial of Israel’s insurance policies towards the Palestinians, its settlement exercise within the West Financial institution and saying that the judicial overhaul will worsen the state of affairs. 

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Herzog addressed these statements head-on.

“I’m not oblivious to criticism amongst pals, together with some expressed by revered members of this Home,” he mentioned, including that whereas respects the criticism “one doesn’t at all times have to simply accept it,” which elicited laughs and claps within the chamber.

His remarks got here in the future after the Home overwhelmingly accredited a decision affirming that Israel “is just not a racist or apartheid state” and that the U.S. “will at all times be a staunch accomplice and supporter of Israel,” whereas additionally condemning xenophobia and antisemitism.

The ultimate vote was 412-9-1, with all opposition coming from progressive Democrats — a few of whom boycotted Wednesday’s speech.

The decision was drawn up in response to remarks by Jayapal, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, who, throughout a progressive convention in Chicago over the weekend, mentioned that “Israel is a racist state.” 

The remark drew vocal bipartisan criticism, and Jayapal later apologized, walked again her remarks and centered her criticism on the Netanyahu authorities.

Jayapal didn’t attend Herzog’s speech, with a Democratic aide saying in an announcement that her absence was resulting from “scheduling conflicts.” She did, nonetheless, help the decision on Tuesday.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint assembly of Congress on July 19, 2023.

One of many loudest applause traces got here when Herzog warned that criticism of Israel shouldn’t “cross the road into negation of the State of Israel’s proper to exist.”

“Questioning the Jewish individuals’s proper to self-determination is just not respectable diplomacy, it’s antisemitism,” he added.

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Whereas Herzog’s roughly 40-minute remarks have been overwhelmingly celebrated by each side of the chamber, some Republicans stayed seated whereas different lawmakers stood to applaud the Israeli president describing Israel as internet hosting “the biggest and most spectacular LGBTQ Satisfaction parades.” 

Nonetheless, the chamber was full of lawmakers proclaiming help for Israel — with the U.S. and Israel working carefully collectively to counter threats from Iran and its nuclear ambitions and advance efforts to ascertain ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

“Israel thanks the US for working in the direction of establishing peaceable relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a number one nation within the area and within the Muslim world,” Herzog mentioned.

“We pray for this second to come back. This could be an enormous sea change in the middle of historical past within the Center East and the world at massive.”

The comment acquired an amazing bipartisan standing ovation. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the rating member on the Judiciary Committee who’s Jewish, held up Israel’s flag through the Israeli president’s remarks.

Herzog mentioned that his deepest “craving… is for Israel to in the future make peace with our Palestinian neighbors” — feedback that drew a bipartisan standing ovation — however known as out Palestinian assaults towards Israelis as undermining potentialities for a future peace. 

“However the deep political variations, and the quite a few challenges that encompass Israeli-Palestinian relations — and I don’t ignore them — however it ought to be clear that one can not speak about peace whereas condoning or legitimizing terror, implicitly or explicitly. True peace can’t be anchored in violence,” he mentioned. 

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Herzog thanked the U.S. for its “dedication to Israel’s safety,” however famous that the connection is a “two-way alliance, through which Israel has been making crucial contributions to the nationwide safety and pursuits of the US in quite a few methods.” 

To this point, the U.S. has supplied $158 billion in bilateral help and missile protection, in keeping with the Congressional Analysis Service, though that quantity is just not adjusted for inflation. 

The previous Obama administration negotiated two, 10-year agreements that supplied Israel $30 billion as much as 2018, and $33.8 billion between 2019 and 2028. 

In 2021, Congress appropriated an extra $1 billion to restock Israel’s missile protection system, Iron Dome, however that was largely delayed over opposition from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

Herzog is barely the second Israeli president to deal with Congress. His father, Chaim Herzog, marked Israel’s fortieth anniversary with a joint speech to Congress in 1987. 

He known as it “the dignity of a lifetime” to observe in his father’s footsteps, and he paid discover to his different deep household roots in his speech, referencing how his grandfather, the chief rabbi of the newly established State of Israel, met with then-President Truman within the White Home in 1949. 

The president’s brother, Michael Herzog, is Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S.

“To us, it’s clear that America is irreplaceable to Israel, and Israel is irreplaceable to America. It’s time to design the following stage of our evolving friendship and our rising partnership collectively,” Herzog mentioned in his speech. 

“Israel and the US will inevitably disagree on many issues. However we are going to at all times stay household.”