United States House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers opened their visit to Israel on Sunday at the Western Wall.
The 20-member delegation of Republican and Democrat lawmakers was welcomed by Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Places Shmuel Rabinowitz, who joined them in prayer.
McCarthy signed the official guest book of the Western Wall and said: “On behalf of the U.S. Congress, Israel is a blessed nation, because of our shared values we have a bond between the U.S. and Israel that will never be severed. I look forward to the next 75 years of Israel, of a long relationship that will grow stronger between us.”
The Temple Mount, where the First and Second Jewish Temples were built, is the holiest site in Judaism. The Western Wall is the only remnant of a retaining wall encircling the Temple Mount built by Herod the Great in the first century and is the holiest site where Jews can freely pray.
The delicate status quo governing the Temple Mount goes back to 1967, when Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six-Day War. Fearing a religious war, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan agreed to let the Islamic Waqf, a Muslim trusteeship, continue managing the holy site’s day-to-day affairs, while Israel would maintain overall sovereignty and be responsible for security.
The U.S. delegation is scheduled to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Center, on Monday. The lawmakers will be accompanied by Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana.
McCarthy is scheduled to address the Knesset as it opens its summer session later in the afternoon.
The only other U.S. House speaker to address the Knesset was Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich in 1998.