WASHINGTON – President Isaac Herzog will begin on Tuesday a 48-hour visit to Washington to meet U.S. President Joe Biden, as well as other senior U.S. officials and leading U.S.-Jewish organizations.
The Israeli president’s visit, which was first put into motion during Biden’s July visit to Israel, marks Herzog’s first visit since assuming the presidency in July 2021.
The trip comes days before Israel’s fifth election in two-and-a-half years, with much focus centered on Benjamin Netanyahu’s potential return to power and the potential inclusion of far-right extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir in a governing coalition.
As president, Herzog will consult with party leaders following the November 1 election before determining who has the clearest path to forming a majority government.
Herzog’s visit also comes amid Israel’s refusal to send defensive military equipment to Ukraine to combat Russia’s invasion. Bipartisan U.S. lawmakers have decried Israel’s decision, though the Biden administration has indicated it will not publicly press Israel to change its position.
After landing early Tuesday, Herzog will meet with leadership from the Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella organization representing 146 Jewish federations and 300 independent Jewish communities. He will then meet with unspecified leadership of U.S. Jewish communities.
The JFNA, like the vast majority of the American-Jewish establishment, have neglected to sound the alarm on Ben-Gvir's potential inclusion in a Netanyahu-led coalition.
Herzog served as Jewish Agency chairman prior to the presidency, where he dedicated significant attention to bridging the gap between Israel and American Jews.
“I cannot imagine a world in which Israel and North American Jewry are not intimately tied to each other,” he told the 2021 JFNA General Assembly. “We must declare our urgent duty and overreaching goal, to strengthen our shared sense of peoplehood, to enhance and deepen the links between us."
Herzog will then meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with whom he previously met during Blinken’s March visit ahead of the Negev Summit. During that meeting, Blinken pointedly praised Israel’s efforts toward ending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
This was when former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was running shuttle diplomacy between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to the consternation of many international actors.
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Israel had also been the focus of attention for not effectively joining the international sanctions regime and not sending defensive military equipment, due to fears of angering Moscow and potentially triggering a reciprocal move in Syria. It has instead opted to send humanitarian aid while joining the international community in condemning Russia at the United Nations — a public posture that has continued to the present day.
Much of this criticism was recently renewed after Israel’s recent refusal of Ukraine’s request for defensive military equipment. While the U.S. has indicated Israel maintains the right to make its own decisions related to its national security, experts close to the administration anticipate the U.S. may increase private pressure as Russia continues to utilize Iranian weaponry in its offensive.
During their March meeting, Blinken further stressed the administration’s dedication to building upon the Abraham Accords and bolstering Israel’s regional integration. This focus was only emphasized in recent months, particularly during Biden’s visit.
Herzog will use a conversation at the Atlantic Council with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro (currently a distinguished fellow with the think tank’s N7 initiative) to present his vision for regional cooperation within the context of broader Israeli-Arab normalization.
The president will then head to the Capitol to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he previously hosted during her February visit to Israel. During her visit, Herzog relayed how he introduced Pelosi to Ehud Manor's poem "I have no other land" — a poem which she has notably cited following the January 6 insurrection and the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Herzog will then meet with a bipartisan delegation of Congressional leaders.
The president will meet with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan prior to meeting Biden at the White House the next day. Herzog had awarded Biden with the Israeli Medal of Honor at the President's Residence during the July visit, where they also discussed America's commitment to Israel's security and the shared commitment to working together to counter Iran's destabilizing activities.
During their meeting, Herzog presented Biden with the notes from his meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir nearly 50 years prior — an encounter that has been ever-present in Biden's accounting for his support of Israel. Unlike their previous meeting, the prospects of a renewed nuclear deal with Iran are dim at best, by all accounts.
According to the White House statement on Herzog's visit, the two will “consult on key issues, including regional and global challenges of mutual concern, opportunities to deepen Israel’s regional integration, and ways to advance equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and security for both Israelis and Palestinians."
This order of matters is consistent with the administration’s prioritization of matters relating to Israel. Biden’s trip had all but uncoupled Israel from the Palestinians, following in President Donald Trump’s footsteps and centering Israeli policy around Arab normalization and regional integration.