Israeli democracy is 'sound, strong', President Herzog tells Biden at White House

President Joe Biden says US support for Israel remains 'ironclad' despite recent criticism

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visits the White House amid tension at home

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visits the White House amid tension at home
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Israeli President Isaac Herzog used his White House meeting with his US counterpart Joe Biden to express confidence in his country's democracy amid historic protests against the far-right government's planned judicial overhaul.

“The heated debate we are going through as a society is a virtue and tribute to the greatness of Israeli democracy. Israeli democracy is sound, strong and resilient,” Mr Herzog told Mr Biden in the Oval Office.

Mr Biden, for his part, assured Mr Herzog that the “friendship” between the two countries is “unshakable and unwavering”, despite an increased uneasiness from the Biden administration over recent events in Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US President spoke to Mr Netanyahu by phone on Monday and invited him for a visit later this year, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, ending months of speculation about when such a trip might occur.

Recent unrest in Israel over proposed judicial reforms has raised concerns in Washington, with Mr Kirby calling “some of the extremist activities and behaviour” of Mr Netanyahu's cabinet members “disturbing”.

Mr Netanyahu said in a statement that the call had focused on “strengthening the strong alliance between the countries” and his intention to “forge a broad public consensus” on the contested judicial bill.

Israel's government is going ahead with the second of three votes for a bill as part of a planned judicial overhaul that would limit the Supreme Court's powers.

Mr Herzog told Mr Biden he was “pleased” to hear about the phone conversation and its emphasis on the allies' “ironclad military and security co-operation”.

“There are some enemies that mistake that we may have some differences as impacting our unbreakable bond. If only they know how much our co-operation has grown, they would not think that way,” he added.

Tension in Israel and the occupied West Bank has also reached a fever pitch.

This month, Israel launched its largest military operation in Jenin in decades – with at least 17 people killed and more than 100 injured.

Mr Biden last week criticised members of Israel's cabinet over their policies concerning the occupied West Bank and reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution with Palestinians.

“It's not all Israel's problem [in the West Bank], but they are part of the problem … particularly those individuals in the cabinet who say … [Palestinians] have no right to be here,” he said in an interview with CNN.

Analysts at the Washington-based Middle East Institute said that Mr Herzog plays a mediating role between Washington and Israel's hard-right government.

“The Israeli President is the 'good cop' in the plot,” the institute's Brian Katulis and Nimrod Goren wrote in their Liberal Patriot newsletter analysis of the visit.

“His invitation to Washington, while Prime Minister Netanyahu has already been waiting months for such a visit, clearly indicates that. Herzog is the sort of Israeli leader the US is comfortable with.

“Every applause break Herzog gets in [Washington] DC could actually be a 'boo in disguise' against Netanyahu.”

The White House highlighted Iran's “destabilising” regional maritime activity, climate change and “stronger integration of Israel into the Middle East” as other areas that would be discussed between Mr Herzog and Mr Biden.

Mr Herzog was last at the White House in October for another round of talks that focused on deepening Israel's integration with its Arab neighbours.

Updated: July 19, 2023, 1:11 AM