Israel's Herzog stresses 'sacred bond' with US in address to Congress

President's two-day trip to Washington comes amid tension between the two countries

Israeli President quips at critics in US

Israeli President quips at critics in US
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Israel's President Isaac Herzog addressed the US Congress on Wednesday, stressing “the sacred bond” between the two nations, despite tension over an Israeli plan to overhaul the nation's judicial system as well as recent violence in the occupied West Bank.

US members of Congress stood and cheered as Mr Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, entered the chamber.

“The sacred bond we share is unique in scope and quality, because it is based on values that reach across generations, across administrations across governments and coalition's carrying us through times of turmoil and elation,” Mr Herzog said to a standing ovation.

His speech concludes a two-day visit to Washington that has come at a delicate time in US-Israeli relations, as plans by the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to weaken the nation's court system continues to spur a wave of mass protests.

The Israeli government on Tuesday went ahead with the second of three votes needed for the bill that would limit the Supreme Court's powers.

Mr Herzog's visit also comes weeks after Israel launched a massive military operation in Jenin that killed at least 17 and injured 100.

“I'm not oblivious to criticism among friends, including some expressed by respected members of this House,” Mr Herzog said. “I respect criticism, especially from friends, although one does not always have to accept it.”

On Tuesday, Mr Herzog met President Joe Biden and reassured him that Israel remained committed to upholding democracy.

During his speech to Congress, he echoed that message.

“Democracy is also reflected in protesters taking to the streets all across the country, to emphatically raise their voices and fervently demonstrate their points of view,” he said, directly addressing the issue of the protests, which have continued for more than six months.

On Monday, Mr Biden spoke with Mr Netanyahu and invited him to the US “sometime in the fall”, officials said, ending months of speculation over when such a meeting would take place.

But the Biden administration would not say if the meeting would take place at the White House, as would be expected. No date was announced.

Seven months ago, Mr Netanyahu swore in the most ultranationalist and right-wing government in the nation's history.

Members of his cabinet openly oppose a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has long been the preferred solution under US-sponsored negotiations.

Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, announced that she was boycotting Mr Herzog's speech. She was joined by several other progressive Democrats who said they would not attend.

“I'm here to tell the American people and each of you that I have great confidence in Israeli democracy,” Mr Herzog said.

“Although we are working through sour issues, just like you I know our democracy is strong and resilient … Israel has democracy in its DNA.”

After the speech to Congress, Mr Herzog was scheduled to return to the White House to meet Vice President Kamala Harris. The two leaders were expected to announce a plan to put $70 million towards climate programmes.

Mr Herzog's father, Chaim Herzog, who also served as president of Israel, addressed Congress in 1987.

Updated: July 19, 2023, 6:58 PM