Israeli President Isaac Herzog Blasts Democratic Anti-Semitism in Landmark Congressional Address

'Criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the State of Israel's right to exist'

Israeli president Herzog addresses U.S. Congress (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
July 19, 2023

Israeli president Isaac Herzog took aim at the Democratic members of Congress who boycotted his Wednesday speech, saying that "questioning the Jewish people's right to self-determination is not legitimate diplomacy, it is anti-Semitism."

Though Herzog did not name the lawmakers, his comments appeared to be directed at representatives who refused to attend his speech, which commemorated 75 years of Israeli independence. That group includes "Squad" members Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Cori Bush (Mo.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

Omar and other members of the far-left "Squad" have routinely employed anti-Semitic rhetoric when criticizing Israel and working to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, drew outrage in the days before Herzog's speech when she publicly slammed Israel as a "racist state."

"I'm not oblivious to criticism among friends, including some expressed by respected members of this House," Herzog said. "I respect criticism, especially from friends, although one does not always have to accept it."

"Criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the State of Israel's right to exist," Herzog said to wide applause in the chamber. "Vilifying and attacking Jews, whether in Israel, in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, is anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is a disgrace in every form."

Herzog also delivered a dire warning about Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, imploring Congress to work alongside Israel to confront Tehran's genocidal designs.

"Perhaps the greatest challenge Israel and the United States face at this time together is the Iranian nuclear program," the Israeli leader said. "Let there be no doubt: Iran does not strive to obtain nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran is building nuclear capabilities that pose a threat to the stability of the Middle East and beyond."

The Islamic Republic "is the only nation on the planet publicly calling, plotting, and developing means to annihilate another nation and member of the family of nations, the State of Israel," Herzog warned. "Allowing Iran to become a nuclear threshold state, whether by omission or by diplomatic commission, is unacceptable."

Though Herzog did not openly criticize the Biden administration's secret diplomacy with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal—an agreement that would provide Tehran's hardline regime with billions of dollars—he made clear that the Ayatollah's government will never be reformed.

"The world cannot remain indifferent to the Iranian regime's call to wipe Israel off the map," Herzog said. "Tolerating this call and Iran's measures to realize it is an inexcusable moral collapse."

Israel, he added, remains "determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities."

Herzog also revealed that efforts are underway to foster a landmark peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

"Israel thanks the United States for working towards establishing peaceful relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Herzog said. "We pray for this moment to come. This would be a huge sea change in the course of history in the Middle East and the world at large."

The Abraham Accords—the landmark peace deal between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco brokered by the Trump administration—wholly "realigned … our region," Herzog said, noting that more than one million Israelis have visited these countries since peace was struck.

"Israel's hand is extended, and our heart is open, to any partner in peace near or far," including the Palestinians, Herzog said. Peace is impossible, however, as long as the Palestinian government foments terrorism and kills Israeli citizens.

"Palestinian terror against Israel or Israelis undermines any possibility for a future of peace between our peoples," Herzog said. "Israelis are targeted while waiting for buses, while taking a stroll on the promenade, while spending time with their family. At the same time, successful terror attacks are celebrated, terrorists are glorified, and their families are financially rewarded for every Israeli they attack. This is inconceivable. It's a moral disgrace."

Palestinian terrorism "is not a bump in the road," Herzog said. "Terror is hatred and bloodshed. It contradicts humanity's most basic principles of peace. Israel cannot and will not tolerate terror, and we know that in this we are joined by the United States of America."

Even amid ongoing disagreements between Israel's conservative government and the Biden administration, the U.S.-Israel alliance remains unbreakable, Herzog said to sustained applause.

"America is irreplaceable to Israel, and Israel is irreplaceable to America," he said. "Our bond may be challenged at times, but it is absolutely unbreakable."