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Opinion

Herzog’s lamentable performance

Israel needs to deliver an entirely different message to its two-faced U.S. ally.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks during a ceremony at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on July 17, 2023. Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90
Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks during a ceremony at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on July 17, 2023. Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

Far from the diplomatic triumph that some are making it out to be, Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to Congress this week left a bad taste in the mouth.

Certainly, the audience punctuated his remarks with repeated applause and standing ovations. For many members, warmth towards Israel is genuine and for some even profound. The Democratic Party, however, is sliding into increasing hostility.

Seven Democrats in the House of Representatives, along with the independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, boycotted Herzog’s address. Last Saturday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told a group of Palestinian supporters, “Israel is a racist state.”

After she was forced into a mealy-mouthed retraction, the House overwhelmingly passed a Republican-sponsored resolution, with nine Democrats voting against, stating that Israel is “not a racist or apartheid state.”

Is Israel really supposed to be grateful for this? If a member of Congress had said “Jews are child-killers” does anyone think an adequate response by Congress would have been a motion declaring “Jews are not child-killers”?

The House should have strongly condemned Jayapal and dissociated itself from her. But, of course, that wouldn’t have had anywhere near overwhelming support. Indeed, when White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was invited to condemn Jayapal, she refused.

When it came down to it, Herzog failed in his most important task. In the continuing furor over Israel’s judicial reforms, with the Biden administration outrageously telling the Israeli government to abandon its policy and snubbing Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by failing to invite him to the White House, Herzog needed to avoid being played off against the prime minister. He needed to demonstrate there wasn’t so much as a cigarette paper between them.

But he didn’t do that. Instead, he spun the “heated and painful debate” over judicial reform as “the clearest tribute to the fortitude of Israel’s democracy.”

Is that really how Israel’s president sees the mass disruption to public life resulting from the demonstrations, not to mention the protesters’ intimidation and harassment of government ministers? Is that really how he sees the outrageous threats and blackmail by IDF reservists that they will refuse to answer the call to defend their country unless the judicial reforms are abandoned?

Herzog should have told Congress the truth: A sustained attempt is being made to destroy Israeli democracy, using street power to bring down a democratically elected government, ostensibly because the protesters disagree with a platform on which the government was elected.

He should have told Congress that the judicial reform package has been wildly misrepresented and distorted by its opponents. Above all, he should have said the government under Netanyahu is united and should be supported.

Herzog said none of these things. Instead, he brought Congress to its feet through  emotional bromides, extolling the U.S. as “our greatest partner and friend” and purring about “how deeply our stories complement each other’s.”

True, he incorporated a couple of subtle rebukes. He drew attention to the two-way nature of the alliance with America “in which Israel has been making critical contributions to the national security and interests of the United States in numerous ways.”

Apparently alluding to the continuing U.S. funding of the Palestinian Authority, despite its refusal to abandon its “pay-for-slay” rewards to terrorists and their families, Herzog said, “It should be clear that one cannot talk about peace while condoning or legitimizing terror, implicitly or explicitly.”

Few would have noticed these downplayed remarks. Moreover, Herzog blew his one opportunity to alert the American people to the malice and aggression being displayed towards Israel by the Biden administration. Instead, he created the impression that relations between Israel and the U.S. couldn’t be better.

The folly of this became instantly apparent when, straight after Herzog’s address, Biden gave an interview with Thomas Friedman. This journalist is the sewer into which the Biden administration habitually drips its poison against Israel to convey this toxic effluent to the outside world.

Friedman duly reported what the president had told him. In a phone call to Netanyahu the previous day, he said, Biden had warned Israel’s prime minister that the “special relationship” between the two countries could sustain irreparable damage unless judicial reform was slowed down until consensus is achieved.

Herzog had thus set himself up as a patsy for the disgusting tactic beloved of Israel’s left-wing enemies: Pitting the “good Jew”—the useful idiot or enemy of Israel—against the “bad Jew”—Israel’s unambiguous supporter.

To the Biden administration, the center-left Herzog and the Israeli anti-Netanyahu protesters are the “good Jews,” while Netanyahu and his coalition allies are of course the “bad Jews.”

Not only is it intolerable for the U.S. to interfere with Israel’s right to conduct its own business, but it also displays a quite bovine hypocrisy.

Opponents say the Israeli proposal to give politicians control over the appointment of judges will end democracy. Yet in America, judges are appointed by politicians.

What’s more, the Democrats have now introduced a bill to enact term limits for Supreme Court justices that would authorize the president to nominate new ones every two years. This is being done explicitly to curb the power of conservative justices on the bench. 

In a statement, the bill’s principal proposer Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said, “Five of the six conservative justices on the bench were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, and they are now racing to impose their out-of-touch agenda on the American people, who do not want it.”

So much for the supposed congressional “check and balance” against political overreach.

For anti-Israel liberals, the ultimate “bad Jews” are the “settlers,” Israelis who live in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria. Yet again, this animosity is based on an entirely false premise.

Settling the Facts, a new documentary produced by pro-Israel activist Roger Walters, thoroughly debunks the canards that these “settlements” break international law and are an obstacle to peace.

Law professor Avi Bell observes in the film that the word “settler,” meaning Israeli Jews who are living where they supposedly aren’t entitled to live, is loaded and distorted.

These Israelis are breaking no international law, he says. In 1922, international law was established giving Jews entitlement to the entire land including these territories, while there has never been any legal or historical basis for the claim that they belong to the Palestinian Arabs.

The film contains interviews with Israelis and Arabs living and working together in these territories, with many testimonies that they have formed friendships with each other.

In 2017, both communities formed the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce to promote peace between them and shared interests. Its co-founder, Sheikh Ashraf Jabari, told the filmmakers that the problem lies not with the Israelis but with the Palestinian Authority’s minions who “hate and arrest” anyone who wants peace with Israel.

Yet Biden reportedly also told Netanyahu to impose a “settlement” freeze. He is thus trying to prevent Israeli Jews from living in areas to which they alone are entitled in order to appease aggressors who want to destroy the Jewish homeland altogether.

As a result of the Biden administration’s hostility, there are increasing calls for Israel to dispense with American aid. An article in Tablet by Jacob Siegel and Liel Leibovitz points out that, far from the image of Israeli dependency on the U.S., America actually gains more from this relationship.

Tellingly, one former security-related U.S. official told the authors, “Aid to Israel is the biggest bargain we have on our books. Ending it would be a disaster for us.”

Rather than Herzog’s lamentable performance, ending American aid is the message Israel now needs to deliver to its two-faced American friends.

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