U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy arrives in Israel at the head of a 20-member delegation of lawmakers, April 30, 2023. Photo by Noam Moshkowitz/Knesset Spokesperson.
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy arrives in Israel at the head of a 20-member delegation of lawmakers, April 30, 2023. Photo by Noam Moshkowitz/Knesset Spokesperson.
featureU.S.-Israel Relations

‘This administration should get further behind the Abraham Accords,’ says McCarthy

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy talks judicial reform, perceptions of waning U.S. strength, and the unique relationship between Jerusalem and Washington.

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Sunday issued a strong rebuke of U.S. President Joe Biden for not yet having invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House.

McCarthy arrived in Israel on Sunday as the head of a bipartisan congressional delegation to the region. The group includes former Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Asked during an April 30 interview whether the lack of an invitation from the White House, four months into the Israeli leader’s term, should be considered normal, McCarthy replied: “If that [a visit to the White House] doesn’t happen, I’ll invite the prime minister to come meet with the House. He’s a dear friend, as a prime minister of a country that we have our closest ties with.”

When pressed on how long he would wait, McCarthy said, “I think it’s too long now. He [Biden] should invite [Netanyahu] soon.”

He added that he has already invited President Isaac Herzog to speak before both chambers of Congress in June to mark Israel’s 75th anniversary.

Q: What is your main goal in your visit to Israel? And what is the message that you want to convey to the world?

A: Well, I was invited by [Knesset] speaker [Amir Ohana] to come speak at the Knesset. This is my first trip as speaker of the House. And I want to make a point that Israel was the reason I was focused on it. It’s just, it’s such a unique bond that our two nations have, I mean, [within] minutes of this nation becoming a nation, America recognized you, which I think changed the course of history as well. But so many times throughout those 75 years, our bond got even stronger. Every Congress, I lead a group of members. I think it’s important, firsthand, to understand what we [the United States and Israel] go through … there’s no other democracy in the Middle East; we have to thrive. And I think the strength of America and Israel is more than a country. It’s the idea of who we are. We can struggle at times, we’re not perfect, but we both strive to be a more perfect union. And I think that’s what’s important.

Q: Are you certain that the bipartisan support for Israel is secure in light of what is going on in the Democratic Party’s radical fringes?

A: You know, I never take anything for granted. You never assume you just keep something. This is a bipartisan trip and I’m proud that I’ve got Steny Hoyer, the former leader of the Democrats with us. So we have to fight for it. We have to explain it to make sure people understand it because there are people on the far left that make it at times of struggle, and I’ll never allow that to happen as speaker; I will fight hard to keep it bipartisan.

Q: Meanwhile, we have heard on the Republican side statements that may not be anti-Israeli but are definitely antisemitic.

A: Well, if I ever hear that we will put a stop to that, because my real concern is where I really hear it coming [from], in our colleges, our most liberal colleges, this boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has to be stopped. When I became speaker, we had a member of the House who I felt said antisemitic comments. I removed Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee specifically to make sure. We all understand the long history: If you allow that to go on, it will build. I’ve watched what happened in France and other locations. So at any time, whenever that may rise up, I make sure regardless of where it comes from, that we crush it and make sure it cannot grow.”

Q: What about people like Ye (Kanye West) and others known for their antisemitic statements who met Donald Trump?

A: That was denounced right away. We will not let that stand in our party at all.

Q: There is a huge debate here regarding judicial reform. What’s your take on it?

A: Where I see it, I think you should have the debate, I think democracies have debates. And I think there should be an openness on the question of ‘Do you need to reform and what type of reforms do you need?’ I mean, look, it’s your country, and for you to decide. But one of the greatest strengths in America is the rule of law and fairness. It’s something that we look at at times to make sure we keep it. If you only allow a few to determine who becomes a judge and others … you need checks and balances, so I think it’s fair that you should look at reforms. And I think the pause, the idea of bringing both sides together to find common ground, would be a good place. But I do think that there are elements, when I read the law, where you would want to look for reforms.

Q: Is Israel at risk of ceasing to be a democracy, as some have claimed? 

A: Israel loves democracy, America loves democracy. But the thing is that people outside, whenever they say that, they don’t understand democracy. Look, I went through 15 rounds to get elected speaker. That was showing democracy works. Democracy means people can have a difference of opinion; democracy means you can openly say it, you can actually debate it—that’s healthy. The idea that people are upset that they’re debating ideas is wrong. That’s why we crave it.

Q: Is the funding for U.S. military aid to Israel guaranteed? 

A: As speaker of the House, it is safe. But I can tell you that, as is the case with anything, you can’t predict future congresses. That’s where you always work in everything. But I believe the resources we provide to the friendship with Israel make the world safer. You’ve got to go the step beyond. We can never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Q: The perspective in Israel, and maybe in the Middle East, is of an America that is not strong, even growing weak. That’s why we saw China mediating the deal between the Saudis and Iran. Also, at least from an Israeli perspective, there is no powerful policy against Iran. So all in all, America doesn’t look strong. 

A: Don’t view the administration as the same as Congress. This Congress just passed a resolution celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel and the Abraham Accords. This administration should get further behind the Abraham Accords and grow them even bigger. We watched what the power of that was able to do for peace and others. Don’t ever underestimate where we are, and don’t underestimate the voice that we have in there.

Q: Is it wise politically to have Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president even as he stands on trial? We are experienced with such a situation in Israel, and it’s hard for a candidate to win like that.

A: I think that the American public will make that decision, that’s what’s great about democracy. But first and foremost, no one should ever use the legal system to try to punish their political adversaries. And it is clear, not just on one side of the aisle—but also with independents and Democrats—that what is happening to … Trump in New York is appalling; it goes above the rule of law and it’s purely being used for political purposes. It only raises the numbers for Trump. If there was a Republican district attorney someplace in the country doing the exact same thing, I wish everybody else would stand up against that as well. Because the one thing about America is that the rule of law matters.

Q: OK, any chance you will run for president sometime in the future? 

A: Never. I’m running for re-election and to hold the House and get America back on the track following our commitment to America.

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