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In Address to US Congress, Israel’s President Warns About Iranian Threat

Israeli President Isaac Herzog addressed a joint session of Congress on July 19, reaffirming the U.S.-Israel alliance, warning about the Iranian threat, and reiterating Israel’s independent judiciary amid controversy surrounding it.

Before a packed crowd in the House chamber, where he got multiple standing ovations throughout, Mr. Herzog expressed gratitude for the United States’ support for the Jewish state.

Iranian Threat

Mr. Herzog remarked that the greatest threat to Israel is Iran, whose nuclear program he said is not peaceful and that the regime “has spread hatred, terror and suffering throughout the Middle East and beyond, adding fuel to the disastrous fire and suffering in Ukraine.” Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova was in attendance.

Mr. Herzog touted the peace that Israel has made with Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco (and Sudan, which he did not name). He expressed hope that one day Saudi Arabia will join that circle of peace, which would “be a huge sea change in the course of history in the Middle East and the world at large.” Additionally, Mr. Herzog yearned for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, though he remarked that “true peace cannot be anchored in violence.”

Just weeks ago, Israel conducted an anti-terrorism raid in Jenin, a city in the West Bank notorious for harboring Palestinian terrorists.

“Israel cannot and will not tolerate terror, and we know that in this, we are joined by the United States of America,” said Mr. Herzog, who did not reference the Jenin raid.

Herzog called on the United States and Israel to confront the Iranian threat, including preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

‘Racist State’

Mr. Herzog’s address comes days after Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), called Israel a “racist state.”

“As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state,” Ms. Jayapal told pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the annual conference for the progressive organization Netroots Nation on July 16.

“That the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible,” she continued.

However, Ms. Jayapal later reversed course, saying the Jewish state is not racist but that its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his government are.

“At a conference, I attempted to defuse a tense situation during a panel where fellow members of Congress were being protested. Words do matter, and so it is important that I clarify my statement,” she said in a statement.

“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” continued Ms. Jayapal. “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.

“I believe it is incumbent on all of us who are striving to make our world a more just and equitable place to call out and condemn these policies and this current Netanyahu government’s role in furthering them.”

Ms. Jayapal reiterated her call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She explained that her response at the conference was her “responding to the deep pain and hopelessness that exists for Palestinians and their diaspora communities when it comes to this debate, but I in no way intended to deny the deep pain and hurt of Israelis and their Jewish diaspora community that still reels from the trauma of pogroms and persecution, the Holocaust, and continuing antisemitism and hate violence that is rampant today.”

Epoch Times Photo
Israeli President Isaac Herzog walks toward reporters to speak about his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington on July 18, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

‘Special Relationship’

House Democrat leadership—House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), House Democrat Conference Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), and Vice Chair Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)—rebutted Ms. Jayapal’s initial claim while not calling out Ms. Jayapal by name or condemning her.

“Israel is not a racist state. As a Jewish and Democratic nation, Israel was founded 75 years ago on the principle of complete equality of social and political rights for all of its citizens irrespective of religion, race or sex, as codified in its Declaration of Independence,” they said in a statement.

“America and Israel have a uniquely special relationship anchored in our shared democratic values and strategic interests,” continued House Democrat leadership.

“As House Democratic leaders, we strongly support Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people. We are also firmly committed to a robust two-state solution where Israel and the Palestinian people can live side by side in peace and prosperity.”

While House Democrat leadership went on to acknowledge that there are members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition and of Congress with whom they disagree, it reiterated its commitment to ensuring bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

Additionally, a statement signed by 43 House Democrats, including nine in the CPC, circulated as of July 16 evening, rebuking Ms. Jayapal by name.

“Israel remains the only vibrant, progressive, and inclusive democracy in the region. Arab parties serve in the Knesset, women serve at the highest levels of the military, and the country remains an oasis for LGBT people in a region hostile toward the community. Pluralism flourishes in Israel,” wrote the members.

“We are deeply concerned about Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s unacceptable comments regarding our historic, democratic ally Israel, and we appreciate her retraction,” they continued.

The Democrat members went on to stress the meaning of Israel.

“Israel is the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people and efforts to delegitimize and demonize it are not only dangerous and antisemitic, but they also undermine America’s national security,” they wrote.

“Israel is critical to our fight against terror, and our defense and intelligence collaboration continues to strengthen our leadership in the world. Israel remains our greatest partner for peace in the Middle East.

“Any efforts to rewrite history and question the Jewish State’s right to exist, or our historic bipartisan relationship, will never succeed in Congress. We remain committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians to establish two states that exist side-by-side in peace, prosperity, and mutual security.”

The members vowed to “never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden antisemitism to undermine and disrupt the strongly bipartisan consensus supporting the U.S.–Israel relationship that has existed for decades.”

Ms. Jayapal’s initial claim falls under examples of antisemitism under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by dozens of countries such as the United States, in that an instance of hatred toward Jews includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

‘Antisemitism Is a Disgrace’

In his speech, Mr. Herzog alluded to the Jayapal controversy by saying there is a fine line between criticizing Israel and denying the right of the Jewish state to exist, the latter of which is antisemitism.

“Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is not legitimate diplomacy; it is antisemitism,” he said. “Vilifying and attacking Jews—whether in Israel, in the United States, or anywhere in the world—is antisemitism. Antisemitism is a disgrace in every form.”

The House on July 18 passed a resolution, 412-9-1, affirming Congress stands with Israel and condemns antisemitism.

Mr. Herzog’s speech came as Mr. Netanyahu has been trying to change Israel’s judiciary, especially its supreme court. He made numerous references to the independence of the Jewish state’s judicial system. Mr. Herzog has opposed these efforts.

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