Delicate Diplomacy

Herzog begins his peacekeeping mission to Washington

Israeli President Isaac Herzog will meet with President Biden on Tuesday and speak to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday

LOD, ISRAEL - JULY 13: U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli President Isaac Herzog during an arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport on July 13, 2022 in Lod, Israel. Biden will spend two days in Israel, his first visit here as president, before traveling to Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Amid simmering U.S.-Israel tensions over Israeli settlements and the country’s controversial judicial reform efforts, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will arrive in Washington today for a busy three-day diplomatic visit, with stops at the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the United Nations.

Herzog, who has in recent months solidified his position as chief negotiator between warring Israeli camps, will meet with top American officials in Washington before going to New York to meet Jewish leaders and visit the United Nations.

A spokesperson for Herzog said on Sunday that “the purpose of the diplomatic visit is to strengthen the relations and the partnership between the U.S. and Israel, and to reflect the deep ties between the countries.” 

Herzog will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday, a visit that White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said will “highlight our enduring partnership and friendship” on the occasion of Israel’s 75th anniversary. 

Israel’s ongoing judicial reform process “will certainly be a topic of discussion,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said on Monday. “But I don’t want you to come away from this thinking that it’s the sole topic of concern. It is of concern. The president has made our concerns over it public, clearly, but there’s an awful lot of other issues which I fully expect will come up in the meeting with President Herzog tomorrow.” 

Also on the agenda in Biden’s meeting with Herzog is “the destabilizing activity out of Iran,” climate change and “other broad regional security issues including the normalization and stronger integration of Israel into the Middle East,” said Kirby. 

Herzog will also meet with Secretary of State Tony Blinken at the State Department on Tuesday, and with Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday. 

On Wednesday morning, Herzog will address a joint session of Congress following an invitation by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). At least five far-left members of Congress — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — have pledged to boycott his speech. Some Democratic lawmakers who did not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress amid the debate over the Iran nuclear deal told Jewish Insider last week that they plan to attend Herzog’s.

His speech comes days after Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) called Israel a “racist state” at the Netroots Nation conference, a remark that drew unified condemnation from House Democratic leadership. The chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus later walked back the comment. 

“We saw that she apologized and we’re glad she did,” Kirby told reporters. “As you’ll see tomorrow when the president gets a chance to meet with President Herzog, our commitment to Israel is ironclad.” 

Herzog’s visit to Washington will also include a meeting with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. In New York, he will meet with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres alongside Leah Goldin, the mother of IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, who was killed by Hamas in 2014 and whose body remains in Gaza. He will also meet with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and he will speak to members of the U.S. Jewish community at an event hosted by UJA-Federation of New York. 

Biden and Herzog also met at the White House last October. But for months, Biden snubbed Netanyahu by not extending an invitation to the Israeli premier since he reentered office last December. 

That changed on Monday, when the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced that the two leaders will meet later this year, after they spoke on the phone for the first time in months.

The location of the meeting was not specified further than the U.S., fueling speculation that it could take place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September.

“They have agreed that they will meet, probably before the end of this year, and all the details of the wheres and the whens are still being worked out,” Kirby said. 

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