Friendship goals

Knesset, House launch parliamentary friendship group to strengthen U.S.-Israel ties

‘In your fight to eradicate Hamas, America is with you all the way,’ Rep. David Kustoff says in Knesset

Leonid Baratz

Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) speaks at launch of Knesset-House Parliamentary Friendship Group in Jerusalem, July 3rd, 2024

The first-ever Knesset-House Parliamentary Friendship Group held its inaugural meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday, with its American chairman Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) and Israeli MKs Boaz Bismuth (Likud) and Idan Roll (Yesh Atid), as well as Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana in attendance.

The theme running through the event was shared democratic values between Israel and the U.S., and the need to protect those values from enemies who seek to destroy them.

Kustoff warned that “we are facing a rebuke of Western cultural values, a rejection of a free and liberated society, a direct attack on morality, truth, reason and goodwill. … We are fighting barbaric terrorism, combatting a global enemy. … The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is a true friendship, rooted not only in shared values, but the willingness to protect those values in the face of adversity.”

”In your fight to eradicate Hamas and any other genocidal extremist group that threatens your way of life, America is with you all the way …I will do everything in my power to make sure Israel has the tools Israel needs to defend herself,” he continued.

While Kustoff noted the bipartisan effort behind the parliamentary friendship group’s founding, which began with former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and continued with current Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) with the support of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), he also had barbs for the other side of the aisle.

”Sadly, some of my colleagues have forgotten [the importance of relations with Israel]. I was disappointed to see the highest ranking Jewish official in Congress … calling for an election by one of our allies,” Kustoff said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) speech criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace.

”We don’t do that in the U.S.,” Kustoff added. “Let me assure you this doesn’t reflect the will of most of Congress or most Americans.”

Kustoff, one of only two Jewish Republicans in Congress, spoke of campaigning in his district, which includes Memphis and western Tennessee, and being asked what church he goes to when he knocked on doors. 

“When I would answer ‘Temple Israel,’ the response immediately would be ‘I love Israel; what can we do to support Israel?’” he recounted. “It’s been gratifying … the overwhelming support Israel receives not only from the American Jewish community, but from friends in the Christian community.” 

While the Knesset has dozens of parliamentary friendship groups, from Albania to Vietnam, the House of Representatives only has five. Upon entering the speakership in 2022 and learning that there was no such group between Congress and the Knesset, Ohana set a goal to establish one, his spokesman told Jewish Insider. McCarthy agreed to advance a parliamentary friendship group during his visit to the Knesset last year.

“This is another important pillar that strengthens the alliance between the two countries,” Ohana said in his remarks at the event. “We are taking our relationship to the next level and opening up new avenues for cooperation.” 

Ohana noted the “broad, bipartisan wave of legislation” on Capitol Hill following the Oct. 7 massacre to give Israel the assistance it needed in its war on Hamas and “expressed the support of the American people for the justness of our cause.” 

Israel’s war “is a war of the free world led by the world’s greatest superpower, the U.S.,” Ohana added. “We are fighting the forces of evil — those who seek to abolish the freedoms we share, the sanctity of life, the protection of human rights. … We do not have the privilege of losing. What happens to Israel will happen to the entire Western world.” 

Ohana called Johnson a “longstanding and true friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” and invited him to visit and address the Knesset. 

Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew also addressed the event, saying that “the [Biden] administration, Congress, Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agree that we stand with Israel and that’s not going to change. … In a time where there’s so much division in politics, it’s good to remember there’s also a lot we can agree on.”

Lew also expressed optimism that Israel and Saudi Arabia could normalize relations.

Citing the April Iranian missile and drone attack on Israel that prompted a multinational response from Washington and allies, Lew said that the U.S. “guaranteed that Iran’s massive attack would cause no serious damage. Friends in the region who, in the past, may have not been so public worked with us. … These are the tangible results of a real-life friendship that demonstrated the value of an expanded alliance. … We are working to expand the group.”

While the Oct. 7 attack was a setback in forging official Israel-Saudi ties, “the opportunity is still there,” Lew said. “Israel is safer, its economy is stronger and the whole region is better off each time Israel normalizes relations with another country. I continue to believe normalized relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia would make both countries more prosperous and the region more stable.”

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