On June 16, 1974, Richard Nixon landed in Israel, becoming the first US president to visit the Jewish state. “It is for me, as I am sure all of you can imagine, a very great moment to be standing here,” he declared from the tarmac of the recently renamed Ben-Gurion International Airport.
A few hours later, at a reception in the Knesset, Nixon urged Israel’s leaders to take risks for peace, even though, he allowed, with what has proved to be considerable understatement, it was by no means guaranteed that this goal was achievable.
“But we do know that we must try. We do know that we must begin,” he said. “There have been four wars in a little over a generation in this area, and unless we change the situation some way, somehow, there will be another war and another one, and each one, of course, is terribly costly to the nations involved and particularly to this nation.”
Nixon’s short trip, though, is remembered more for its timing — weeks before he would resign as president over the Watergate scandal — than for its content.
A visit by Jimmy Carter in March 1979 would prove much more momentous, with the US president visiting days before Jerusalem and Cairo signed their historic, taboo-breaking peace treaty.
“We are now at the very edge of turning Israel’s eternal dream of peace into reality,” Carter declared in his speech to the Knesset. “I will not pretend that this reality will be free from further challenges. It will not. And better than most, the Jewish people know that life is seldom easy. But we must make this beginning. We must seize this precious opportunity.”
It would be over 15 years until Israel saw another serving US leader visit, with Bill Clinton making the trip in October 1994, the first of four trips to Israel by the two-term president.
Since then, Israel has hosted George W. Bush and Barack Obama twice each, the last visit a lighting-fast stopover for Shimon Peres’s funeral last year.
Next week, Donald Trump will become the sixth US president to visit the Jewish State. As the White House finalizes the itinerary of the two-day trip, The Times of Israel went back to the archives and selected some of the best photos from past presidential visits.