(JNS) — Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday addressed a joint session of Congress, following a meeting the previous day with his U.S. counterpart at the White House.
“At this moment in my people’s history, gathering on Capitol Hill to celebrate 75 years of Israeli independence with our greatest partner and friend, the United States of America, my soul is overflowing with pride and joy. The people of Israel are grateful to no end for the ancient promise fulfilled and for the friendship we have formed,” said Herzog.
“When the State of Israel was established in 1948, the land which the Almighty promised to Abraham, to which Moses led the Israelites, the land of the Bible, of milk and honey, evolved into an exquisite land of democracy. Against all odds, the Jewish people returned home and built a national home, which became a beautiful Israeli democracy, a mosaic of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians, secular, traditional and Orthodox, of all denominations and all possible views and lifestyles. A land which welcomed the ingathering of exiles from one hundred different countries,” continued Herzog.
“A land which became the Startup Nation — a bustling hub of innovation and creativity, social action and intellectual discovery, spiritual awakening and business ventures, scientific ingenuity and lifesaving medical breakthroughs. We built a nation-state which has faced relentless war, terror and delegitimization since its birth. A country fighting to defend itself from enemy and foe, yet whose citizens continue to greet each other with the word ‘peace,’ shalom.”
Herzog then shifted attention to Iran, calling the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program “perhaps the greatest challenge Israel and the United States face at this time.
“Let there be no doubt: Iran does not strive to attain nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran is building nuclear capabilities, that pose a threat to the stability of the Middle East and beyond. Every country or region controlled or infiltrated by Iran has experienced utter havoc. We have seen this in Yemen, Gaza, in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. In fact, we have seen this in Iran itself where the regime has lost its people and is suppressing them brutally. ….
“Iran is the only nation on the planet publicly calling, plotting and developing means to annihilate another nation, a member of the family of nations, the State of Israel. … Allowing Iran to become a nuclear threshold state — whether by omission or by diplomatic commission — is unacceptable,” the Israeli leader said.
On the issue of peace, Herzog thanked the United States for its longstanding diplomatic efforts in the region.
“The peace which the United States brokered between Israel and its neighbors has revolutionized the Middle East. The historic peace treaties with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have demonstrated the many blessings of opting out of the cycle of war,” he said.
“Three years ago, the Abraham Accords realigned our imaginations and our region. Israel eagerly welcomed the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Kingdom of Morocco into an exclusive, warm peace between our peoples. … Israel’s hand is extended, and our heart is open, to any partner in peace — near or far.
“Israel thanks the United States for working towards establishing peaceful relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a leading nation in the region and in the Muslim world. We pray for this moment to come. This would be a huge sea change in the course of history in the Middle East and the world at large,” continued Herzog.
“My deep yearning is for Israel to one day make peace with our Palestinian neighbors. Over the years, Israel has taken bold steps towards peace and made far-reaching proposals to our Palestinian neighbors. Notwithstanding the deep political differences, and the numerous challenges that surround Israeli-Palestinian relations, and I do not ignore them, but it should be clear that one cannot talk about peace while condoning or legitimizing terror, implicitly or explicitly. True peace cannot be anchored in violence.
“Palestinian terror against Israel or Israelis undermines any possibility for a future of peace between our peoples. Israelis are targeted while waiting for buses, while taking a stroll on the promenade, while spending time with their family.
“At the same time, successful terror attacks are celebrated, terrorists are glorified, and their families are financially rewarded for every Israeli they attack. This is inconceivable. It is a moral disgrace. Terror is not a bump in the road. Terror is hatred and bloodshed. It contradicts humanity’s most basic principles of peace. Israel cannot and will not tolerate terror, and we know that in this we are joined by the United States of America,” added Herzog.
“We pray for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
With respect to the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform initiative, Herzog expressed “great confidence in Israeli democracy.
“Although we are working through sore [painful] issues, just like you, I know our democracy is strong and resilient. Israel has democracy in its DNA,” he said.
“I will say to you, our friends, in English, what I have said to my people, to my sisters and brothers, in Hebrew back home: As a nation, we must find a way to talk to each other no matter how long it takes. As head of state, I will continue doing everything to reach a broad public consensus, and to preserve, protect and defend the State of Israel’s democracy,” added Herzog.
He proceeded to stress the importance of the Jewish state’s relationship with America.
“We are proud to be the United States’ closest partner and friend. We are grateful to the United States for the necessary means you have provided us to keep our qualitative military edge, and to enable us to defend ourselves, by ourselves,” he said.
“This reflects your ongoing commitment to Israel’s security. We are also tremendously proud that ours is a two-way alliance, in which Israel has been making critical contributions to the national security and interests of the United States in numerous ways. Thank you, dear members of Congress, for your support of Israel throughout history, and at this critical moment in time,” added Herzog.
The Israeli president invited a slew of guests to attend the speech, including Clifton Truman Daniels, grandson of former U.S. president Harry Truman, who recognized Israel 11 minutes after its declaration of independence in 1948.
Herzog is also being accompanied by Leah Goldin, whose son Lt. Hadar Goldin was killed in action during the 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza. His body is still being held by the Palestinian terror group.
The Israeli leader also invited, among others, the American leaders of the Reform and Conservative movement and the Orthodox Union.
On Tuesday, Herzog had a “wonderful meeting” in Washington with U.S. President Joe Biden, whom he called a “huge friend of Israel.”
Herzog told reporters that he and his American counterpart had discussed “many issues,” including the “Iranian nuclear threat.”
Earlier Wednesday, the Israeli president met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with the two leaders expressing mutual appreciation for the “unique relations” between the countries.
Herzog also met on Wednesday with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Herzog is scheduled to visit New York City before returning to Israel after Shabbat.