Israeli President Herzog heads to White House as tension flares [Netanyahu invited ‘soon’]

Ellie Sennett

The National  /  July 18, 2023

President Joe Biden says US support for Israel remains ‘ironclad’ despite recent criticisms.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is meeting US leader Joe Biden on Tuesday at the White House as tensions flare between Washington and the far-right government in the Knesset.

The White House has said the visit by Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, will highlight the two countries’ “ironclad” partnership and friendship.

But the Biden administration has grown increasingly uneasy with events unfolding in Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden spoke to Netanyahu by phone on Monday and invited him to the US later this year, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, ending months of speculation about when such a visit might occur.

Recent tensions in Israel and the occupied West Bank have also reached a fever pitch.

This month, Israel launched its largest military operation in Jenin in decades – killing at least 17 people and injuring more than 100 others.

Biden last week criticized members of Israel’s far-right cabinet over their policies in the occupied West Bank, and reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution with Palestinians.

“It’s not all Israel’s problem [in the West Bank], but they are part of the problem … particularly those individuals in the cabinet who say … [Palestinians] have no right to be here,” he said in a recorded interview with CNN.

Kirby said the proposed judicial reform will “certainly be a topic of discussion” between Biden and Herzog in their Tuesday meeting, but will not be the only topic of concern.

The White House highlighted Iran “destabilizing” regional maritime activity, climate change and “stronger integration of Israel into the Middle East” as areas that would be discussed between the two leaders.

Herzog was last at the White House in October, for another round of talks that focused on deepening Israel’s integration with its Arab neighbours.

Ellie Sennett is a US Correspondent for The National covering Washington foreign policy


Israel’s Herzog to face tensions on Washington visit

Patricia Zengerle & Stev Holland

Reuters /  July 18, 2023

WASHINGTON – A handful of Democratic lawmakers are weighing staying away when Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses Congress this week, citing issues that include the human rights record of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Herzog, who as head of state plays a largely ceremonial role, begins his two-day Washington visit on Tuesday when he meets U.S. President Joe Biden before addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday.

Ties between the two countries are strained over Israeli settlement expansion on the occupied West Bank as well as a judicial overhaul pursued by Netanyahu’s right-wing government and assailed for months by Israeli protesters.

Herzog will also meet Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, a senior administration official said.

Biden and Herzog will discuss deepening Israel’s regional integration, buoyed by several accords with its Arab neighbors in recent years, and a shared commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the official said.

“They will also discuss the urgent need to preserve the path for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the official said. Biden and Herzog last met at the White House in October. Netanyahu returned to power in December.

On Monday, Biden invited Netanyahu to the United States for an official visit later this year.

Biden had held off extending the invitation out of concern over Jewish settlements and a planned overhaul that critics say would strip Israel’s highest court of much of its power and prompted anti-government protests in Israel for months.


In Congress, U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar said on Twitter “there is no way in hell” she would be at Wednesday’s speech.

“Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address comes on behalf of the most right wing government in Israel’s history, at a time when the government is openly promising to ‘crush’ Palestinian hopes of statehood — essentially putting a nail in the coffin of peace and a two-state solution,” Omar said.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also said she did not plan to attend the speech. An aide said she shared many of her colleagues’ concerns.

It is not unusual for members of Congress to miss foreign leaders’ addresses to joint meetings of Congress. Several skipped Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to Congress in June, citing issues including rights concerns.

More than 50 Democrats stayed away from a 2015 speech to Congress by Netanyahu that was seen as an embrace of congressional Republicans and snub of then-Democratic President Barack Obama’s Iran policy. Biden, who was vice president and thus president of the Senate, also did not attend.

Representative Primila Jayapal, who leads a large group of progressives in Congress, on Sunday apologized for calling Israel a racist state.

Democratic House leaders had pushed back against her initial declaration.

On Friday, noting the expansion of settlements, violence in the West Bank and Netanyahu’s “collaboration with extreme right” elements, Jayapal told reporters of Herzog’s address: “I think this is not a good time for that to happen.”

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; editing by Don Durfee and Howard Goller


Biden invites Netanyahu to the US for a meeting ‘soon’

Jihan Abdalla

The National  /   July 18, 2023

Israel is pushing ahead with contentious judicial overhaul bill.

President Joe Biden spoke on Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and invited him to the US later this year, seven months after the Israeli leader took office.

“There’ll be a meeting here in the United States sometime in the fall,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The two leaders had agreed to remain in close touch and “to further discuss matters of mutual concern”, Kirby said.

The invitation came as Israel’s governing coalition pushes ahead with a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary, despite growing opposition from within the country’s military and a wave of mass protests.

The Prime Minister’s office said Netanyahu had told Biden that a bill to remove the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down government actions it deemed “unreasonable” would be brought for a parliamentary vote next week.

The issue has soured relations between the two allied nations.

“President Biden reiterated in the context of the current debate in Israel about judicial reform, the need for the broadest possible consensus and that shared democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship,” Kirby told reporters on Monday.

He added that during the call, the two leaders consulted on co-ordination to counter Iran, including through regular and ongoing joint military exercises.

Kirby said Biden had stressed the need to take measures to maintain the viability of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to improve the security situation and the West Bank.

The US President also expressed concern about continued expansion in the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Biden is trying to keep long-time US-Israeli relations on track while facing calls by some American leaders to put pressure on Israel over recent violent incidents in the West Bank. His Democratic Party has become increasingly critical of Israel in recent years.

But no exact date has yet been announced for the meeting and officials on Monday did not specify if the visit would take place at the White House.

“I don’t see it as a formal invitation like what [Israeli President Isaac] Herzog is getting or what Netanyahu has got in the past,” Khaled Elgindy, director of Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute told The National.

On Tuesday, Biden will host Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House. Herzog will also address a joint session of the US Congress on Wednesday.

The White House said the meetings with Herzog are expected to focus on Israel’s role in the region, Russia’s relations with Iran and Tehran’s “destabilizing behaviour in the region”.

Herzog last visited the White House in October.

“I think the Biden administration wants to register some disapproval with Netanyahu without putting too fine a point on it,” Elgindy said.

“They don’t want to bash Netanyahu because that doesn’t go over well, domestically.

“It looks like they’re doing everything short of a formal Netanyahu visit.”

Jihan Abdalla is a Washington-based correspondent


Israel’s Netanyahu says Biden invited him to ‘meet soon’ in US

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 17, 2023 

Netanyahu and Biden hold phone call for first time in seven months, as Israeli President Isaac Herzog travels to Washington.

US President Joe Biden has extended an invite to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “meet soon in the United States”, the Israeli leader’s office said in a statement on Monday.

Biden and Netanyahu spoke over the phone on Monday for the first time in seven months – since Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister – as relations between the two governments have appeared strained over the Netanyahu coalition’s judicial overhaul plans.

Netanyahu’s office described the call between him and Biden as “long and warm”, and further said that the Israeli prime minister accepted the invitation and it was agreed that “Israeli and American teams will coordinate the details of the meeting”.

According to Netanyahu’s office, the call focused on threats from Iran and the current situation in the occupied West Bank.

The White House has yet to publish a readout of the call between the two leaders.

The vagueness of Biden’s invitation made it unclear whether the US president was extending an invitation to the White House or another stage like the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The phone call also comes after Biden said in an interview with CNN that the current iteration of the government in Israel is the most extreme he has seen since he started working with Israeli prime ministers.

During the interview, Biden also referred to some members of Israel’s cabinet as “extreme”, and said they were a part of the problem when it comes to the rising violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The two more far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, have so far been snubbed by the Biden administration.

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department Middle East advisor, previously told Middle East Eye that if “Netanyahu said tomorrow the judicial overhaul is dead, the Biden administration would schedule a visit for him.”

“The reason he isn’t coming isn’t attached specifically to the Palestinians.”

The phone call also took place the day before a visit to the US by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who will hold meetings with the White House and deliver an address to a joint session of Congress.