Israeli President in front of US Congress amid tension

Israeli President Isaac Herzog delivered an address to the US Congress on Wednesday amid tensions within Joe Biden’s Democratic Party over US support for the Israeli ally.

President Herzog, who plays an essentially ceremonial role, is far less divisive than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but his visit nevertheless caused a stir among elected Democrats, some who condemn the democratic “drift” in Israel as well as the continuation of colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories.

It came as thousands of Israelis united again on Tuesday to condemn a judicial reform project launched by Mr Netanyahu’s government, which is seen as a threat to democracy.

Isaac Herzog was welcomed to the White House on Tuesday by President Joe Biden – who hailed the “unbreakable” ties between the United States and Israel – and never ceased to praise the “strength” of democracy in the Jewish state, without denying difficulties during the two-day visit.

Acknowledging the “spirited debate” on the judicial reform bill, he spoke of a “healthy, strong and resilient Israeli democracy”.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog makes a statement to the press after meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, July 18, 2023 (AFP – Mandel NGAN)

Gregory Meeks, the senior-most Democrat elected to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, remarked on Tuesday, “The President (Isaac Herzog) is a rare symbol of unity in a polarized society and a safe bet for Israel.” He welcomed the fact that he is “working to bring all parties together and reach a consensus” on the reform.

His visit, when Israel is celebrating its 75th anniversary, is an opportunity for all of Washington to highlight its “unwavering” support for the Israeli ally.

– Boycott –

But it’s not to everyone’s liking and, in a rare occurrence, a handful of elected Democrats have pledged to boycott the Israeli president’s speech before the two houses of Congress meet in plenary at 3:00 p.m. GMT on Wednesday in protest.

The controversy gave rise to accusations of anti-Semitism.

Republican Leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy makes a statement to the press in Washington on July 18, 2023 (Getty/AFP - Anna Moneymaker)
Republican Leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy makes a statement to the press in Washington on July 18, 2023 (Getty/AFP – Anna Moneymaker)

So much so that Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy passed a resolution Tuesday condemning anti-Semitism and assuring the United States’ unwavering support for Israel, in response to left-wing Democratic Party Representative Pramila Jayapal, who recently called Israel a “racist state.”

Under pressure, she backtracked and apologized, but Republicans are protesting and demanding she be removed as head of the progressive parliamentary group in the lower house.

In a statement, the 43 elected Democrats said they would “never allow anti-Zionist voices fueling anti-Semitism to undermine and disrupt the strong bipartisan consensus that has supported the US-Israel relationship that has existed for decades.”

The elected Democrats elected White House candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to withdraw an invitation to testify before a parliamentary committee on censorship after he suggested that COVID-19 may have been designed to protect Jews and Asians.

Mr. McCarthy, who visited Israel last May and was the first “speaker” to deliver a speech before the Knesset since Newt Gingrich in 1998, declined to do so, expressing his disagreement with the Democratic nominee.

In February, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed a resolution to expel elected Democrat Ilhan Omar, a former refugee from Somalia, from a powerful committee, accusing her of making anti-Semitic remarks in the past.

Following his speech at Congress, Mr Herzog is due to meet elected members of the Abraham Accords parliamentary group, which was set up last year in support of normalizing relations between Israel and some Arab countries.

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