Israeli President Isaac Herzog will address a joint meeting of Congress on July 19 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Israel’s statehood and to reaffirm his nation’s special relationship with the United States, congressional leaders announced on Thursday.
“The world is better off when America and Israel work together,” said the announcement from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “Eleven minutes after declaring independence in 1948, the United States was the first to recognize the state of Israel, and today, we continue to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two democracies.”
McCarthy addressed Israel’s parliament in May. It was the first time in 25 years a sitting speaker of the House had addressed Israel’s Knesset, and it came in a period of fraught relations between Israel’s government and President Joe Biden.
McCarthy noted that the only other president of Israel to address a joint meeting of Congress was Herzog’s father, President Chaim Herzog, more than 35 years ago. The Israeli presidency is a largely ceremonial office meant to serve as a unifying force and moral compass in a diverse and often divided country.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has addressed Congress three times — most recently in 2015, when Republican leaders invited him to deliver a speech railing against then-President Barack Obama’s emerging nuclear agreement with Iran. The speech infuriated the White House and fellow Democratic leaders.
Biden, then Obama’s vice president, was traveling abroad and did not attend Netanyahu’s address — when the vice president normally would have sat behind the Israeli leader during those remarks.
Netanyahu, who returned to office last December, has known Biden for decades. But the two have disagreed over Netanyahu’s proposed overhaul of Israel’s judicial system, which critics see as a move toward authoritarianism, as well as his hard-line government’s expansion of West Bank settlements and punitive measures against the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s position runs in direct opposition to Biden’s moves to boost U.S.-Palestinian relations.
Biden said in March there were no plans to invite Netanyahu to the White House “in the near term.” In a challenge to Biden, McCarthy said in May that he would invite Netanyahu to speak to Congress if Biden doesn’t.
At an event hosted by the Israeli embassy earlier this month, Herzog told attendees via video, including Vice President Kamala Harris, that he looked forward to a White House visit. The National Security Council responded in an e-mail on Thursday it had nothing to announce when asked if a White House visit would be a component of Herzog’s trip to Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, R-Calif., had invited Herzog to address Congress last year, and Schumer met with Herzog in Israel during a visit in February. Schumer said Herzog “has always been a great leader and is particularly influential at this time.”
“This invitation to speak at a joint meeting of Congress is a testament to the decades of bipartisan and bicameral support for Israel that transcends party politics and I look forward to welcoming him to the Capitol,” Schumer said.