Oval Office Visit

Biden, Blinken praise Herzog for ‘affirming’ Israeli democratic values

After meeting with President Biden at the White House, Israeli President Isaac Herzog urges Israelis to consider Biden’s ‘deep concern’ about Israeli affairs

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (left) and President Joe Biden meeting on Tuesday in the White House. Haim Zach / GPO

Following an Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden, Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday urged Israelis to take seriously Biden’s “deep concern” about Israeli affairs. 

“We have to understand and respect this, that when the president of the greatest power on earth asks questions and interests himself, as he did in his conversation with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] yesterday, it’s not just for fun, not to gossip, to bother us,” Herzog told reporters outside the White House following his meeting with Biden. “It comes from deep concern.” 

Herzog’s meeting with Biden was the first stop on his diplomatic visit, which also includes a speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday and another stop in New York City. Both Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who also met with Herzog on Tuesday, celebrated U.S.-Israel ties at a time of strain and highlighted Jerusalem’s shared democratic values with Washington.

The trip comes as the Israeli government plans to move forward with controversial legislation that would severely curtail the Israeli Supreme Court’s power. The Biden administration has criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the judicial reform process, which has prompted widespread protests in Israel, and urged Israel’s government against pursuing unpopular legislation that could damage Israel’s democracy. 

As the ceremonial head of state, Herzog has sought to negotiate a compromise between the ruling right-wing Israeli coalition and the more liberal opposition. He said at the start of his meeting with Biden that Israel’s democracy is “sound, strong and resilient.” 

“It is a heated debate, but it is also a virtue of, and a tribute to, the greatness of Israeli democracy,” Herzog said of the ongoing political debate in Israel, noting that his “heart and soul are also in Israel.” 

Biden did not address the judicial reform matter in his remarks at the start of the meeting. 

“My love for Israel is deep rooted and long-lasting,” said Biden. “This is a friendship which I believe is simply unbreakable, and together we are working to bring more integration and stability in the Middle East.” 

But a summary of the meeting from the White House said the two leaders “discussed the need for a consensus-based approach to the judicial reform package.” The White House summary called “shared democratic values” the “bedrock” of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Herzog’s meetings with Biden and Blinken also focused on Iran, regional integration, Israeli security and antisemitism. 

Blinken, highlighting the “democratic values” at the heart of the U.S.-Israel relationship, threw his support behind Herzog’s efforts at negotiating a judicial reform compromise. “What you have been doing, the leadership you have shown in affirming those values, bringing people together in affirmation of those values could not be more important,” he said to Herzog at the start of a meeting that included top American and Israeli diplomats. 

Biden and Blinken both stressed the importance of working toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians, a topic Herzog avoided in his public comments.

Herzog’s friendly reception at the White House stands in contrast to Biden’s treatment of Netanyahu, who has not received an invitation to the White House since he took office in December. Biden administration officials confirmed this week that Biden and Netanyahu will meet in the U.S. in the fall, but they have declined to say whether the meeting will take place at the White House or elsewhere, such as on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September in New York. 

Herzog’s visit to Washington will wrap up on Wednesday with a busy day on Capitol Hill and a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris. He will attend a rare bipartisan meeting of congressional leadership that will include House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). After delivering an address to a joint session of Congress, he will meet with the bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucus. 

On Tuesday night, Congress voted 419 to 9 to approve a resolution declaring that Israel is not racist or an apartheid state. The resolution came after comments made Sunday by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, referring to Israel as “a racist state.” She later walked back her remarks.

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