Israeli President Isaac Herzog addressed a joint session of Congress Wednesday, calling the United States his country’s “greatest partner and friend” and drawing numerous standing ovations.
Herzog is now the second Israeli President to address Congress after his father, Chaim Herzog, in 1987.
His speech marked modern Israel’s celebration of its 75th year. “My soul is overflowing with pride and joy,” he said to Congress. “The people of Israel are grateful to no end for the ancient promised fulfilled and for the friendship we have forged.”
He noted that it was in 1949 that President Harry Truman met with the chief rabbi of the newly-established state of Israel—his, grandfather, Rabbi Yitzak Isaac HaLevi Herzog—in the Oval Office where the rabbi thanked Truman for being the first leader to recognize the state of Israel “11 minutes after its foundation.”
Herzog’s address to Congress comes as Democrats are seeking to balance longstanding support for the U.S. ally with disapproval of some actions by hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox coalition government.
Herzog noted in his speech before Congress that since Israel was established in 1948, it has evolved into an “exquisite democracy” that takes pride in its “protection of minorities, human rights and civil liberties as laid down by its parliament, the Knesset, and safeguarded by its strong Supreme Court and independent judiciary.”
That appeared to be a veiled reference to Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul Israel’s judicial system, including limiting the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to rule against the legislative and executive branch. Netanyahu has been pushing forward with his plan despite massive protests across the country.
Earlier this week, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (R-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, apologized for calling Israel a “racist state.”
“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” Jayapal said in a statement. “I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government.”
At the White House on Tuesday President Biden told Herzog that the the relationship between the United States and Israel was “simply unbreakable”—despite days before having said on CNN that some members of the current Israeli government to be “the most extremist” that he, Biden, has seen in nearly four decades.
On Tuesday, the Republican-led House passed a resolution reaffirming its support for Israel. Nine Democrats voted against the resoution, all members of the Progressive Caucus, though Jayapal voted in support.