Israeli President Isaac Herzog affirmed the US-Israel relationship in an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, calling America “our greatest partner and friend.”
“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,” Herzog said during the speech – comments that prompted a standing ovation from members of Congress.
“The people of Israel are grateful to no end for the ancient promise fulfilled and for the friendship we have formed,” the Israeli president said.
The address marked a bipartisan show of support for a top strategic ally in the Middle East.
There is widespread support for Israel on both sides of the aisle in Congress, but some House Democrats said they would skip the address, citing concerns about human rights. House progressives have been vocal about their opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the US sponsorship of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
Democratic leadership has been supportive of Herzog’s visit, with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York extending the invitation last year. “I look forward to welcoming him with open arms,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said at a recent news conference, calling Herzog “a force for good in Israeli society.”
Some of the prominent progressives who said they would not attend the speech include: Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Cori Bush of Missouri and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Ocasio-Cortez said earlier this week she would not be attending the speech, saying, “There’s currently a crisis of democracy and apartheid, and I think that this is something that has been a consensus among human rights organizations globally from the UN to Amnesty International, and I think this is a conversation that we heed to have as a country.”
Ahead of the address, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday evening to pass a resolution affirming support for Israel with a bipartisan vote of 412 to 9, with nine Democrats voting against it.
The vote came after Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, made comments over the weekend about Israel being a “racist” state, which she later sought to walk back.
Top House Democrats rebuked the comments. “Israel is not a racist state,” Jeffries, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar and Vice Chair Ted Lieu said in a statement Sunday that did not mention the progressive leader by name.
Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat, said “Israel is a racist state” on Saturday while addressing pro-Palestine protesters who interrupted a panel discussion at the Netroots Nation conference in Chicago.
Jayapal sought to clarify her remarks in a Sunday afternoon statement, saying that she does “not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” while offering an apology “to those who I have hurt with my words.”
The address to Congress comes a day after President Joe Biden welcomed Herzog to the White House, a visit meant to demonstrate steadfast American commitment to Israel and its security.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy along with other congressional leaders announced the planned address at the end of June. In making the announcement, McCarthy said “the world is better off when America and Israel work together,” and referenced his recent visit to the Israeli Knesset.
“In May, I became the second Speaker of the US House of Representatives in history to address the Israeli Knesset, and now, it is my privilege to host Israeli President Isaac Herzog for a similar honor. The only other President of Israel to share this distinction is his father – President Chaim Herzog – more than 35 years ago,” McCarthy said in a statement at the time.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.