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Jewish Leaders Praise President Herzog’s Address to Congress

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, left, with Mark Levenson on another occasion.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of the United States Congress on July 19 came at a less-than-optimal time in the U.S./Israel alliance, so the stakes were perhaps a bit higher than usual. According to two seasoned observers, Herzog’s speech made a strong and favorable impression, advancing Israel’s cause exceptionally well.

The Israeli president’s talk came after several months of bad press in both countries about the divisions caused by legislative proposals for judicial reform in Israel and rumors of President Joe Biden’s less-than-high regard for Israel’s new coalition government, which is termed “the most right-wing government in Israeli history” in certain press outlets. So the need to advance a more positive narrative for Israel in the United States was crucial.

Mark Levenson of West Orange witnessed the speech in the gallery of the U.S. Capitol building and told The Jewish Link that he was very impressed with the eloquence and poignancy of the talk. He is no stranger to the international diplomatic efforts of Israeli leaders. Professionally, he is the chair of the real estate department of the Sills Cummis & Gross, P.C. law firm. He is also a longtime veteran Jewish leader and Israel advocate and currently serves on the Executive of the Jewish Agency; as co-chair of the New Jersey Israel Commission; and on the executive committees of both Teach NJ and the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry.

Levenson shared that he was “so proud and pleased” that Herzog started his speech by noting that it was taking place on the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, and spoke of the significance of the day and this time as a somber period for the Jewish people. Herzog also remarked on both the deep biblical and historical roots of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

President Isaac Herzog, left, with Levenson on another occasion.

Herzog stressed the strong bonds between the United States and Israel. “He laid out Israel’s history, strength, character, and growing pains,” Levenson said, appreciating how Herzog shared his personal history, relating that his grandfather served as chief rabbi of Israel and his father served as both Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and president of the State of Israel.

Levenson said that Herzog clearly denounced Iran’s threats to both Israel and the United States and denounced Palestinian terrorism and the “Pay to Slay” policy of the Palestinian Authority. He quoted Herzog as saying, “True peace can not be anchored in violence.” The Israeli president also spoke of the disagreements his country had been having over judicial reform and was hopeful that a compromise would be forged so that the reforms could advance in a less-divisive manner.

The Congressional Chamber was “completely full” for Herzog’s speech, Levenson noted, and “the talk resonated really well with Congress.” There were numerous sustained rounds of applause and standing ovations, close to 30, during the speech, which Levenson found ‘very moving.”

Levenson’s abiding impression was that the Congress was “incredibly receptive” to the talk and it effectively addressed many of the criticisms lodged against Israel in recent months.

“President Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress today was received warmly by both parties,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union. “Despite tensions that some politicians tried to stoke up to this point, it was clear that the U.S.-Israel partnership stands strong and will serve to promote our shared values in the Middle East.

“While internal disagreements exist in Israel—as they do in the USA as well—today’s address showed its leadership is unified. Israel has no choice but to face its enemies and stand by its allies, even while dealing with internal struggles. Most Democrats and Republicans in Congress strongly support Israel—as do most Americans. Those who seek to weaken the U.S.-Israel relationship (including the nine House Democrats who voted against a pro-Israel resolution yesterday) failed to do so this week. We at the Orthodox Union are thankful to our friends and allies.”

It’s also clear from a few initial reactions from government leaders that Herzog’s remarks, and his presence in Washington, resonated widely.

An email sent out from the White House the next day, with a readout of Vice President Kamala Harris’ meeting with Herzog, stated: “Vice President Kamala Harris met with President Isaac Herzog of Israel on Wednesday, July 19th. The Vice President reaffirmed our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and emphasized her determination to continue to strengthen the bonds between our countries. The leaders reiterated their commitment to the common values, including support for strong democracies and democratic institutions, that have been the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship for decades.

Mark Levenson in the Gallery area of the United States Capitol Building prior to President Herzog’s speech.

“They discussed the growing partnerships between Israel and the United States in innovation and technology to tackle global challenges such as the climate crisis. Building on this cooperation, they announced a new joint initiative between the United States and Israel, working with the U.S. Congress, with the intent to invest $70 million, with up to $35 million from the United States and up to $35 million from Israel, to advance climate smart agriculture technologies in the Middle East and Africa.”

Congressman Frank Pallone (Sixth District, New Jersey) commented in an email the next day, to constituents: “Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s Joint Address to Congress visit reaffirmed the strength of America’s enduring partnership with Israel. President Herzog was right to say a nuclear Iran poses the greatest threat to Israel and world peace. We must do whatever we can to prevent Iran from developing and deploying nuclear weapons.

“To his credit, President Herzog did not hesitate to address controversies regarding the Palestinians, an independent judiciary, and democracy. But in every case, he stressed peaceful means of resolution rather than violence. The United States and Israel have always shared a special bond, and Congress must keep working on a bipartisan basis to ensure Israel’s security and promote a lasting peace in the region.”

Speaking before the speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer stated: “

Since the founding of the nation of Israel 75 years ago, she has been one of America’s most important allies and fiercest friends. The U.S. was the first country to recognize Israel as an independent state, and to this day our bonds remain strong, our partnership essential. While we have our differences, the U.S. and Israel are united in the most profound ways that two nations could be. America’s support for Israel must never waver, because Israel will be an essential partner for the U.S. in the 21st century.”

Harry Glazer is the Middlesex County editor for The Jewish Link. On occasion, his editors ask him to cover stories about Israeli officials or other international diplomats and, reportedly, Harry finds these assignments “very cool.” He can be reached at
[email protected]

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