Israeli President Isaac Herzog is set to deliver an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, in what is expected to mark a bipartisan show of support for a top strategic ally in the Middle East.
There is widespread support for Israel on both sides of the aisle in Congress, but some House Democrats have said they’ll skip the address, citing concerns about human rights. House progressives have been vocal about their opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the US sponsorship of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
Democratic leadership has been supportive of Herzog’s visit, with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York extending the invitation last year. “I look forward to welcoming him with open arms,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said at a recent news conference, calling Herzog “a force for good in Israeli society.”
Ahead of the address, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday evening to pass a resolution affirming support for Israel with a bipartisan vote of 412 to 9, with nine Democrats voting against it.
The vote came after Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, made comments over the weekend about Israel being a “racist” state, which she later sought to walk back.
Top House Democrats rebuked the comments. “Israel is not a racist state,” Jeffries, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar and Vice Chair Ted Lieu said in a statement Sunday that did not mention the progressive leader by name.
Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat, said “Israel is a racist state” on Saturday while addressing pro-Palestine protesters who interrupted a panel discussion at the Netroots Nation conference in Chicago.
“As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible,” she told protesters chanting “Free Palestine.”
Jayapal sought to clarify her remarks in a Sunday afternoon statement, saying that she does “not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” while offering an apology “to those who I have hurt with my words.”
The address to Congress comes a day after President Joe Biden welcomed Herzog to the White House, a visit meant to demonstrate steadfast American commitment to Israel and its security.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy along with other congressional leaders announced the planned address at the end of June. In making the announcement, McCarthy said “the world is better off when America and Israel work together,” and referenced his recent visit to the Israeli Knesset.
“In May, I became the second Speaker of the US House of Representatives in history to address the Israeli Knesset, and now, it is my privilege to host Israeli President Isaac Herzog for a similar honor. The only other President of Israel to share this distinction is his father – President Chaim Herzog – more than 35 years ago,” McCarthy said in a statement at the time.