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U.S. President Joe Biden with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
U.S. President Joe Biden with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
featureU.S.-Israel Relations

Herzog must tell Biden: You’re hurting Israel

When the Israeli president meets his counterpart this week, he should make it clear that the White House's boycott of Netanyahu runs against the very core of Biden's statement that he is a Zionist.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to the White House this week will be the second time he has met with U.S. President Joe Biden during this Hebrew year. This is a badge of honor for the Jewish state and for Herzog himself. The Israeli president will also address a joint meeting of Congress, yet another sign of distinction for our country. 

But for all the pomp and circumstance of this visit, there is an elephant in the room: The U.S. leader has yet to invite the head of the Israeli government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the White House, despite his return to office in late 2022.

One could have forgiven Biden for showing such reluctance in the first several months of Netanyahu’s term, as Israel’s judicial reform crisis began to unfold and thousands of Israelis took to the streets. Likewise, Biden’s request to slow down the reform and reach a broad consensus was understandable. Netanyahu even announced that he was suspending the overhaul, essentially heeding the U.S. leader’s request, only to see Biden ignore this gesture. 

The only thing that has remained on the Knesset docket from the initial judicial restructuring effort is a bill that seeks to prevent courts from striking down governmental decisions that are deemed unreasonable. Even the Israeli opposition has agreed to some version of this bill, meaning that Biden’s request for broad consensus has also been met. Herzog, who presided over the reconciliation talks, can attest to this more than anyone else, since he knows exactly what kind of understandings were reached. 

Netanyahu even accommodated Biden by approving measures to bolster the Palestinian Authority—despite his government comprising hardliners like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. That step, too, was not reciprocated by the administration. 

Even as Biden boycotts the Israeli prime minister and trashes him in interviews, he continues to meet with leaders whose lack of democratic bona fides is unequivocal. In other words, Biden’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu is no longer based on actual policy differences. 

Perhaps it stems from a more emotional source, or perhaps from political motives. Biden needs the big Jewish Democratic donors, who dislike the Israeli leader and have been very attuned to the protest leaders in Israel. Herzog’s above-the-fray role should be used to put an end to this ugly game. 

Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel. He was elected in a democratic election and stands at the helm of a country that Biden claims to have been committed to for 40 years. Herzog should tell Biden that if he is, as he likes to describe himself, a “Zionist president,” he should know that refusing to invite Netanyahu to the White House hurts Zionism because the prime minister—whether he likes it or not— currently stands at the helm of the Zionist enterprise.

Herzog must also make it clear that the boycott is not only an affront to Netanyahu but also to the millions of Israelis who voted for him and feel he represents them. In fact, by not extending an invitation, Biden is hurting Israel and undermining its security, because when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah brandishes his weapons and Hamas rears its head, they do so because they are seeing an erosion of U.S. support for the Jewish state. 

In other words, during their tête-à-tête—or perhaps even in a larger forum—the Israeli president must tell his U.S. counterpart that his approach hurts Israel. Changing Biden’s posture should be Herzog’s overarching mission as he embarks on his Washington tour.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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