As was widely reported, Israel‘s President, Isaac Herzog, spoke before a joint session of Congress Wednesday to rapturous applause. Loud as the applause was, the background political tumult – both Israeli and American – clearly drowned out the message of a firm and unshakable American-Israeli alliance that he attempted to convey.
Herzog, it should be recognized, was in an impossible position. As a former leader of the Labor party, he is not a fan of Bibi or the judicial overhaul, nor is he an advocate of settlement expansion. However, as president, he is in a formally non-political role, which he, like all his predecessors, though to varying degrees, takes seriously. Nor, unfortunately, unlike his immediate predecessor, Reuben (Ruvi) Rivlin, formerly a Likud politician, has he managed to develop an eloquent, non-politicized mode of speaking for and to the entire citizenry.
Israeli politics are toxic enough, even before being mixed with their American counterparts. The longtime Democratic consensus on Israel is rapidly eroding into a small “progressive” faction which boycotted the speech, and much larger “critical” and “traditionally supportive” blocs, both of which probably sympathized, or at least empathized, with the hapless Herzog. Meanwhile, the Republicans, overjoyed to have a wedge issue which unites both MAGAs and non-MAGAs, cheered Herzog as if he was their real hero, i.e., Bibi.
President Biden doubtless sees eye-to-eye with his Israeli counterpart in private, views he has most recently expressed in public to Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Tom Friedman of the NY Times. He also called Bibi and apparently said vaguely that he’ll see him in the US sometime soon, which Bibi within hours spun into the long-coveted presidential invitation. It is doubtful that his simultaneous admonitions to Bibi to respect democracy and develop a consensus will have much effect in Israel.
Currently those driving the judicial overhaul are absolutely determined to score a major success before this Knesset session ends on July 30. For all the sound and fury on this side of the pond we are a sideshow for them, signifying little or nothing.