Ahead of Knesset address, US House Speaker McCarthy calls Israel ‘blessed nation’

Republican Congressional leader brings bipartisan delegation of 20 lawmakers to Western Wall, will be first speaker to address parliament since Newt Gingrich in 1998

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (right) arrives in Israel and is greeted by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, April 30, 2023. (Noam Moshkovich/ Knesset Press Office)
US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (right) arrives in Israel and is greeted by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, April 30, 2023. (Noam Moshkovich/ Knesset Press Office)

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy called Israel “a blessed nation” in Jerusalem on Sunday, a day before he was set to address the Knesset.

“Israel you are a blessed nation,” McCarthy wrote in the Western Wall visitors’ book after landing at Ben Gurion Airport, adding: “Our shared values unite a bond that will never break.”

The California Republican is leading a bipartisan group of 20 US congressmen, who joined Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch in prayer at the Kotel.

McCarthy placed a traditional note in the Wall, and said he was looking forward to the 75-year-old nation’s next 75 years.

McCarthy, who will become the second US House speaker to address the Knesset plenum, was greeted earlier Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport by his Israeli counterpart Amir Ohana of the Likud party.

The Knesset speaker had extended the invitation to Israel when he called McCarthy in January to congratulate him on being elected speaker of the House, after a bitter vote that saw the far right of the GOP revolt against him. McCarthy and Ohana’s offices held talks about the trip in the months that followed.

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (L) visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem on April 30, 2023. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

Only one other House speaker has given a speech in the Knesset plenum — Newt Gingrich in 1998.

McCarthy made his first stop in Jordan before flying to Israel.

“Jordan is the very first country I chose to visit as Speaker—there’s a reason for that,” he tweeted. “They are a strategic ally in the Middle East and share our commitment to peace, prosperity and stability in the region.”

McCarthy will hold a press conference on Monday afternoon after the Knesset session marking 75 years since Israel’s independence.

“This is a sign and testimony to the strong and unbreakable bond between Israel and its closest ally, the United States of America,” Ohana said in a statement announcing the McCarthy trip.

McCarthy last month issued a statement of support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one day after US President Joe Biden tore into the Israeli government’s effort to overhaul the judiciary and declared that the Likud leader would not receive a White House invite in the near future.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is an Israeli patriot, statesman, and most importantly, a great friend of the United States of America,” McCarthy said at the time. “Free societies have vigorous and open debate. Israel is no exception. I support Prime Minister Netanyahu, and America’s support for Israel’s strong, vibrant democracy is unwavering. Now is an important time for Americans to stand together in support of our long, mutually respectful, and important friendship with Israel.”

McCarthy is one of several high-profile American politicians visiting Israel this month.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, April 28, 2023. (Courtesy of the Executive Office of the Governor)

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham met with Netanyahu on April 17, passing along messages he received while in Riyadh last week regarding the potential for a US-brokered Saudi-Israel normalization agreement.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — who came under fire recently amid the uncovering of a 1990s op-ed he wrote defending Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan — led a delegation of congressional Democrats for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was in Jerusalem last Thursday in a visit widely seen as a precursor to his bid to become the Republican nominee in the 2024 US presidential election.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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