IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Biden meet amid tensions over Netanyahu's policies

Herzog, who holds a largely ceremonial position, visited the White House a day after President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone.
Get more newsLiveon

WASHINGTON — Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the White House on Tuesday amid tense relations in recent months over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies.

The White House said Biden and Herzog, who will address Congress on Wednesday, discussed avenues to provide freedom and security for Israelis and Palestinians, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and "the need for a consensus-based approach to the judicial reform package."

Herzog called the meeting "wonderful" as he spoke to reporters when he left the White House. He said Biden "reiterated his ironclad commitment and his utter friendship and love of the state of Israel."

Herzog said the two leaders discussed "the Iranian nuclear threat," Hezbollah operations and the "internal issues in Israel," an apparent reference to the debate over a judicial overhaul.

"We should definitely see the current debate in Israel with all the facets as a tribute to the strength of Israeli democracy," he told reporters.

Biden reiterated that the friendship between the U.S. and Israel is "unbreakable" in remarks with Herzog before the meeting.

"As I affirmed to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, America's commitment to Israel is firm," Biden said.

Tensions between the U.S. and Israel intensified after Biden voiced criticism of a judicial overhaul that Netanyahu had undertaken despite protests in the streets by Israelis. Biden also came under scrutiny for not having invited Netanyahu to the White House after he returned to office in December.

Biden extended that invitation to Netanyahu in a phone call on Monday.

“The Prime Minister responded positively to the invitation and it was agreed that the Israeli and U.S. teams would coordinate the details of the meeting,” the Israeli government said in a statement.

The two leaders discussed strengthening the U.S.-Israel alliance, threats from Iran and “the continuation of efforts for calm and stability in Judea and Samaria,” the Israeli statement said. Israel also characterized the conversation as “warm and long.”

John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said Biden underscored his “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. In addition to discussing Iran, the two leaders also talked about judicial reforms in Israel and Biden’s concern about settlement growth, Kirby said at a White House briefing.

He added that they would meet in the fall.

In a summary of the call, the White House said that Biden “expressed concern about continued settlement growth and called on all parties to refrain from further unilateral measures” and that he reiterated “the need for the broadest possible consensus” in the debate in Israel over judicial reforms.

Biden and Netanyahu had last spoken in March.

Herzog said he was pleased to hear about the leaders’ conversation and focus on the “ironclad military and security cooperation.

“There are some enemies of ours that sometimes mistaken the fact that we may have some differences as impacting our unbreakable bond, and I truly believe that had they known how much our cooperation has grown in recent years and it’s achieved new heights, they would not think that way,” Herzog told Biden before their meeting.

Netanyahu, a right-wing politician who is in his sixth term as prime minister, has moved to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank in the face of opposition from the U.S. and other countries.

The visit by Herzog, who holds a largely ceremonial position, also comes days after Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, came under fire from both Democrats and Republicans for her comments characterizing Israel as a “racist state” at a conference over the weekend. 

Jayapal walked back her remarks in a lengthy statement Sunday, seeking to clarify her remarks while defending the sentiment behind them. Jayapal said she was trying to “defuse a tense situation” at the conference and offered “my apologies to those who I have hurt with my words.”

More than 40 House Democrats signed a statement condemning her remarks, and a GOP lawmaker introduced a resolution on Monday expressing support for Israel.

The lawmaker, Rep. August Pfluger of Texas, said in a statement that “repeated comments” from Jayapal and other progressive Democrats that denigrated Israel “are unacceptable and disgusting.”

The resolution, introduced with GOP Reps. David Kustoff of Tennessee and Max Miller of Ohio, says that it’s the sense of Congress that Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state,” that Congress rejects all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia and that the U.S. “will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.”

The House overwhelmingly passed the nonbinding resolution on Tuesday night in a 412-9 vote, with 195 Democrats joining all Republicans in voting yes.