Address to a Joint
Meeting of the U.S. Congress
Address to a Joint
Meeting of the U.S. Congress
delivered 19 July 2023, U.S.
Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text
version below transcribed directly from audio]
Vice President, Mr. Speaker:
10th, 1987, I was sitting at home with my wife, Michal, expecting our first
child. We were watching the first Israeli President invited to address a Joint
Session of Congress, in honor of the State of Israel’s 40th Independence Day.
That President was
Standing here today, representing
the Jewish, democratic State of Israel in its 75th year, at the very podium from
which my late father, President Chaim Herzog
spoke, is an -- the honor of a lifetime. And I
thank you whole-heartedly for it.
I was born and raised in Israel, but my father’s diplomatic post at the United
Nations brought my family to New York in the 1970s. During high school, I
volunteered with the
Legal Aid Society for the Elderly in Brooklyn, New York. I
volunteered with the impoverished and the underprivileged elderly, including war
veterans and Holocaust survivors, who gave their best years to the country they
My mentor at the organization was a subtle, reserved professional. She
was strictly business. The moment she broke character has remained with me for
almost 50 years. It was the day she told me the love of her life died fighting
for Israel. Her fiancé, a tall, bright- eyed American Jewish boy, was inspired
by the Zionist dream and the Jewish people’s desire for independence. He
voluntarily boarded a ship to Haifa, fought in the Israeli military, and fell in
the battle for Israel’s Independence just weeks before their wedding. Although
decades had gone by and she had rebuilt her life, the cracks in her heart
That moment, in which I learned of the life he gave for the State of Israel,
spoke to the very core of the bond forged between the people of the United
States and the people of Israel: how the nations we built overcame loss; how
deeply our stories complement each other’s; how far we have all come, together.
I thank you for hosting this festive joint session of Congress
celebrating the first 75 years of Israel's independence. Just a few weeks ago,
during your first trip abroad as Speaker, you honored the Israeli people by
addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel and the
Jewish people. Your sincere expression of friendship on behalf of the United States of America
truly resonated with the Israelis. Thank you.
It is such a great pleasure to see you again. I vividly recall
hosting you at the Knesset a few years back. Your stirring
remarks at the
Israeli Embassy’s Independence Day reception a few weeks ago, reflect both yours
and President Biden’s decades-long, ironclad friendship with Israel.
Special thanks go to Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi who first invited me less
than a year ago, together with Senator Chuck Schumer.
And special thanks to dear friends, Senate Minority Leader,
Senator Mitch McConnell, and the House
Minority Leader Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, for this bipartisan, bicameral
And my thanks also to the distinguished members of the escort committee, for
greeting me so beautifully.
Mr. Speaker, dear friends,
In Jewish weddings, a glass is placed on the ground,
intentionally stomped on. This ritual evokes the destruction of our temple in
Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Only after the glass is broken, the
can -- celebration can truly begin. Amidst the most joyous occasion in the lives of two
individuals who have come together to build something whole, we recall what was
once broken in our nation. Thus, the bitter blends with the sweet.
Hebrew calendar points to the 1st day of the
month of Av. In Jewish tradition,
this is a somber period in which we mourn the loss of our sovereignty. Jewish
communities all over the world lament the beginning of our national exile, where
throughout two millennia we continuously expressed a spiritual connection to
our ancestral homeland [Holy Land] and a longing to return home and regain our
Yet today, at this moment in my people’s history, gathering on Capitol Hill to
celebrate 75 years of Israeli independence with our greatest partner and friend,
the United States of America, my soul is overflowing with pride and joy. The
people of Israel -- The people of Israel are grateful to no end for the ancient promise fulfilled and
for the friendship we have forged.
In 1949, the President of the United States of America, Harry S. Truman, met
with the Chief Rabbi of the newly established State of Israel, my grandfather
Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog, in the Oval Office. This was just a few years
after each of them pleaded and campaigned for the rescue of Europe’s Jews
being slaughtered in the Holocaust by the Nazis.
In speaking to President
Truman, Rabbi Herzog thanked him for the -- being the first world leader to officially
recognize the State of Israel, eleven minutes after its foundation. He spoke,
Rabbi Herzog, of
the Divine Providence that destined President Truman to help bring about the
rebirth of Israel after two thousand years of exile. Witnesses of the encounter
recalled tears running down President Truman’s cheeks. We are honored to have
President Truman’s grandson
Clifton Truman Daniel with us here today.
When the State of Israel was established in 1948, the land which the Almighty
promised Abraham, to which Moses lead the Israelites, the land of the Bible,
of milk and honey, evolved into an exquisite land of democracy. Against all
odds, the Jewish people returned home and built a national home which became a
beautiful Israeli democracy, a mosaic of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians, secular, traditional and orthodox, of all denominations,
possible views and lifestyles; a land which welcomed the ingathering of exiles
from one hundred nations; a land which became the
bustling hub of innovation and creativity, social action and intellectual
discovery, spiritual awakening and business ventures, scientific ingenuity and
lifesaving medical breakthroughs.
We built a nation-state which has faced relentless war, terror, and
delegitimization since its birth -- a country fighting to defend itself from enemy
and foe, yet whose citizens continue to greet each other with the word “Peace,”
Shalom; a country which takes pride in its vibrant democracy, its
protection of minorities, human rights, and civil liberties, as laid down by its
parliament, the Knesset, and safeguarded by its strong Supreme Court and
independent judiciary; a state founded on complete equality of social and political rights
to all its
inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or gender -- as stipulated
Israel’s Declaration of Independence; a country which is ever-evolving,
a diverse amalgam of accents, beliefs,
backgrounds, and customs -- truly, a modern-day miracle.
This is the sweetness in which our country has been blessed. However, dear
friends, the bitter casts a dark shadow on our country, on our region, and on
Perhaps the greatest challenge Israel and the United States face at
this time together is the Iranian nuclear program.
Let there be no doubt: Iran does not strive to attain nuclear energy for
peaceful purposes. Iran -- Iran is building nuclear capabilities that pose a threat to
the stability of the Middle East and beyond. Every country or region controlled
or infiltrated by Iran has experienced utter havoc. We have seen this in Yemen,
in Gaza, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Iraq. In fact, we have seen this in Iran itself,
where the regime has lost its people and is suppressing them brutally.
Iran has spread hatred, terror, and suffering throughout the Middle East and
beyond, adding fuel to the disastrous fire and suffering in Ukraine.
Iran is the only nation on the planet publicly calling, plotting, and developing
means to annihilate another nation, a member of the family of nations, the State
Israel has no border with Iran. Israel has no resources contested by Iran.
Israel has no conflict with the Iranian people. And yet, the Iranian regime --
together with its proxies throughout the Middle East -- is aiming and working
towards destroying the State of Israel, killing the Jews and challenging the
entire world -- the entire free world.
Allowing Iran to become a nuclear threshold state
-- whether by omission or by
diplomatic commission -- is unacceptable. The -- The world cannot remain indifferent to
the Iranian regime’s call to wipe Israel off the map. Tolerating this call and
Iran’s measures to realize it, is an [in]excusable moral collapse. Backed by the
free world, Israel and the United States must act forcefully together to prevent
Iran’s fundamental threat to international security. I am here to reiterate what
every Israeli leader has declared for decades: The State of Israel is determined
to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon capabilities.
We are proud to be the United States’ closest partner and friend.
We are grateful to the United States for the necessary means you have provided
us to keep our qualitative military edge and to enable us to defend ourselves --
by ourselves. This reflects your ongoing commitment to Israel’s security. We are
also tremendously proud that ours is a two-way alliance in which Israel has
been making critical contributions to the national security interests of the
United States of America in numerous ways.
Thank you, dear members of Congress, for your support of Israel throughout
history and at this critical moment in time.
There is no question that the peace which the United States
brokered between Israel and its neighbors has revolutionized the Middle East.
This -- The historic peace treaties with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan have demonstrated the many blessings of opting out of the
cycle of war. Both Jordan and Egypt have contributed tremendously to solidifying
the precious peace and enhancing our region’s stability and wellbeing.
Three years ago, the
Abraham Accords realigned our imaginations and our
nation -- and our region.
Israel eagerly welcomed the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the
Kingdom of Morocco into an exclusive, warm peace between our peoples. Since
signing the accords, over one million Israelis have visited the Abrahamic Nations
-- a clear expression of our will to become integrated in the region.
This is a peace anchored in trust, hope, and prosperity
-- a true game changer.
Each of these historic agreements, which have altered the trajectory of the
Middle East, was facilitated by our greatest friend: the United States of
Israel’s hand is extended and our heart is open to any partner in peace near
Israel thanks the United States for working towards establishing peaceful
relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a leading nation in
the region and in the Muslim world. We pray for this moment to come. This would
-- This would be a huge sea change in the course of history in the Middle East and the world
My deep yearning, Mr. Speaker, is for Israel to one day make peace with our
Palestinian neighbors. Over the years, Israel has taken bold steps towards peace
and made far reaching proposals to our Palestinian neighbors. However, true
peace cannot be anchored in violence. Notwithstanding
the deep political differences, and the numerous challenges that surround the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and relations -- and I do not ignore them -- it should be clear
that one cannot talk about peace while condoning and legit -- legitimizing terror,
implicitly or explicitly. True peace cannot be anchored in violence.
Palestinian terror against Israel or Israelis undermines any possibility for a
future of peace between our peoples. Israelis are targeted while waiting for
busses, 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 is a moral disgrace.
Terror is not a bump
in the road. 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.
Two Israeli soldiers,
Oron Shaul and
Hadar Goldin, and two civilians, Hisham al-sayed
and Avera Mengistu, are being held hostage by Hamas for years for the sole
purpose of torturing their families -- the families they left behind. Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was
abducted in violation of a UN-sponsored humanitarian cease-fire, negotiated by
the United States. His family has been fighting for nine years to bring him
home. I asked Hadar Goldin’s mother, Leah, to be here with us today. We pray for
her son’s return, as well as the three other Israelis.
We pray for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Nation shall not lift up
sword against nation, neither shall they know [learn] war anymore.”1
The younger generation of Israelis and Palestinians deserve better. They are all
worthy of a future to look towards, a future of peace and prosperity; a future
of hope. And I'm wholeheartedly committed to this vision, a vision of hope and
peace, true peace, without any terror.
Speaker, dear friends,
The sacred bond we share is unique in scope and quality because it
is based on values that reach across generations, across administrations,
across governments and coalitions, carrying us through times of turmoil and elation.
One hundred and sixty years ago, it was President Abraham Lincoln
who spoke of the dream to
restore the Jews to their national home as one shared by many Americans. The
Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell articulates the Hebrew Bible’s code
of ethics: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto [all] the inhabitants
thereof.” This verse from Leviticus [25:10], shining through the crack of the Liberty
Bell, underscores the principles that fuel the American dream. These words have
bound our nations through the ages.
Coming together today, in this chamber of
liberty and freedom, we are all realizing the hopes of our founding fathers and
mothers. We are so very proud -- so very proud -- of the true friendship we have forged
-- a mutually
beneficial partnership that has withstood challenges and weathered great
disagreements, because it is based not on uniformity of approach, but on the
ultimate currency of trust. It is not dependent upon operating in harmony, but
on the history we share, on the truths we cherish, on the values we embody.
partnership is based also on similarities and the affinity between our
peoples, the courageous immigrants, and the trailblazing pioneers. It is rooted
deep in our respective declarations of independence. In the American Declaration
of Independence, the founders appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the World.” In
the Israeli Declaration of Independence, influenced by America’s, our founders
placed their trust in “the Rock of Israel” (Tzur
The reverend -- The revered American Jewish spiritual leader
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
embodied the bridge between our peoples and the story of American Jewry. After
escaping from the Holocaust, Rabbi Heschel publicly advocated interfaith
dialogue. He fought for civil liberties in America and marched alongside
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the historic march from Selma to
Montgomery, in March of 1965.
Rabbi Heschel wrote: “To be is to stand for.” To
be is to stand for. I'm so pleased to have his
Professor Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth, joining us here today.
Thank you, Susannah. Susannah, your father reminds us that the principles we defend make us what we are.
Ultimately, Israel and the United States stand
-- and indeed, have always stood
-- for the same values. Our two nations are both diverse, life- affirming societies
that stand for liberty, equality, and freedom. At our core, both our peoples
seek to repair the cracks in the world.
Having said this, I am really well aware that
our world is changing. A new generation of Israelis and Americans are assuming
leadership roles: a generation that was not privy to the hardship of Israel’s
formative years; a generation that is less engaged in the roots that connect our
peoples; a generation that perhaps takes for granted the U.S.-Israel
relationship. Yet, at this moment I am optimistic because to me it is clear
that the shift in generations does not reflecting [sic] changing values; nor does it
indicate changes in our interests. When the United States is strong, Israel is
stronger. And when Israel is strong, the United States is more secure.
Today, my dear friends, we are provided the opportunity to reaffirm and redefine
the future of our relationship. Each of us here has a decisive role in the
future we are building. Many of the challenges Israel and the United States face
are similar. We are all experiencing a tumultuous shift in balance, evident in
countless areas: geopolitical unrest, big power competition, catastrophic war in
Ukraine, pandemics, climate crisis, the unknown of artificial intelligence,
energy shortages, food insecurity, scarcity of water and desertification, global
terror, social polarization, and the attempts to destabilize democracy.
these challenges present an opportunity to seek out solutions together, which
will benefit the global community. Israel has the ability to contribute in a
unique, significant fashion to addressing these challenges. Israel and the
United States are world leaders in aiding countries whose peoples have suffered.
Our collaborative capabilities, coupled with our mutual, beneficial partnership
are the key to the future of our children. To us, it is clear that America is
irreplaceable to Israel and Israel is irreplaceable to America. It is time to
design the next stage of our evolving friendship and our growing partnership
together. So, let's do it together, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s elevate our partnership to new
I'm not oblivious to criticism among friends, including some
expressed by respected members of this House. I respect criticism, especially
from friends, although one does not always have to accept it. But criticism of
Israel must not cross the line into negation of the State of Israel’s right to
exist. Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is not
legitimate diplomacy; it is antisemitism. Vilifying and attacking Jews, whether
in Israel, in the United States, or anywhere else in the world is antisemitism.
Antisemitism is a disgrace in every form, and I commend President Joe Biden for
laying out the United States’ first ever
National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism.
It’s no secret that over the past few months, the Israeli people
have engaged in a heated and painful debate. We have been immersed in voicing
our differences and revisiting and renegotiating the balance of our
institutional powers in the absence of a written constitution. In practice, the
intense debate going on back home, even as we speak, is the clearest tribute to
the fortitude of Israel’s democracy.
Israel’s democracy has always been based on
free and fair elections, on honoring the people’s choice, on safeguarding
minority rights, on protection of human and civil liberties, and on a strong and
Our democracy is also one-hundred-and-twenty Members of
Knesset, comprised of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, representing every
opinion under the Israeli sun, working and debating side by side.
is also late Friday afternoon, when the sound of the Muezzin calling to prayer,
blends with the siren announcing the Sabbath in Jerusalem, while on the -- one of the
largest and most impressive LGBTQ Pride Parades in the world is going on in Tel
Our democracy is also reflected in protesters taking to the streets all across
the country to emphatically raise their voices and fervently demonstrate their
points of view.
Our democracy is the blue and white Israeli flag waved and loved
by all Israelis taking part in the debate.
I am well aware of the imperfections
of Israeli democracy, and I'm conscious of the questions posed by our greatest
of friends. The momentous debate in Israel is painful and deeply unnerving because it highlights the cracks in the whole
-- within the entire whole.
And as President of Israel, I am here to tell the American people, and each of you,
that I have great confidence in Israeli democracy. Although we are working
through sore issues, just like you, I know our democracy is strong and
resilient. Israel has democracy in its DNA.
I am deeply mindful of the challenge which this moment presents to Israeli
society, and I've made it the priority of my presidency to play a leading role
in this critical and emotional public discussion. I will say to you, dear
friends, in English, what I've said to my people, my sisters and brothers
in Hebrew back home: As a nation, we must find the way to talk to each other no matter how
long it takes. As head of state, I will continue doing everything to reach
broad public consensus, and to preserve, protect, and defend the State of
For so many Israelis this very public debate is also very personal.
It is now a little after 6 p.m. in Israel. They will soo[n] sit down to dinner,
together, besides [sic] family or friends, with whom they may severely disagree. But
they are, and they will always remain, family.
Israel and the United States will inevitably disagree on many matters. But we
will always remain family. Our -- Our evolutionary societies have so much to give to
the world, and so much to learn from each other. Our bond may be challenged at
times, but it is absolutely unbreakable.
The Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,”
is a song of hope. The late
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote that in Judaism
hope is an active virtue which requires a great deal of courage. Hope is the
belief that together we can make the world better, that we can overcome any
setback, and heal the fractures in our world.
Israel’s first 75 years were rooted in an ancient dream. Let us base
our next 75 years on hope, our shared hope that we can heal our
fractured world as the closest of allies and friends.
Thank you, members of both Houses, for celebrating Israel’s independence.
Am Yisrael Chai. [The people of Israel live.]
God Bless the State of Israel and God
Bless the United States of America!
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