Close US-Israel ties make world safer, House leader tells Netanyahu

Kevin McCarthy meets with president and prime minister before heading to Knesset for special session

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (L), in Israel at the head of a bipartisan delegation, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 1, 2023 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (L), in Israel at the head of a bipartisan delegation, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 1, 2023 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, in Israel at the head of a bipartisan delegation, held separate meetings on Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog.

Netanyahu and McCarthy sat down at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, and then held another meeting with the delegation of Democrats and Republicans.

In front of cameras before their private meeting, Netanyahu hailed last week’s 400-19 House vote passing a resolution supporting the bilateral relationship and the Abraham Accords to mark Israel’s 75th birthday.

“To get 95% agreement on anything today is no mean matter,” the prime minister chuckled, “and it expresses the strength of that alliance and the strength of that support.”

McCarthy said it was no coincidence that he came to Israel on his first trip abroad as speaker, because “there is no greater ally to America than Israel.”

“The world is better when America and Israel are tighter,” the House leader continued. “The world is safer.”

Netanyahu also greeted Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, a former majority leader and staunch Israel ally, with particular warmth as he shook hands with the delegation.

Hosting McCarthy at his official residence, Herzog hailed the US as “a very close ally of ours” and said Israel is moving toward “full integration” in the Middle East, noting the 2020 Abraham Accords and earlier peace deals with Egypt and Jordan.

President Isaac Herzog (L) speaks with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Jerusalem, May 1, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

“On the other hand there is a great enemy threatening us not far from here,” Herzog added, referring to Iran. “Half an hour in any direction from here is an enemy state, and we believe that the alliance with America is of great importance.”

McCarthy told Herzog that the bipartisan representation on the trip is meant to underscore “that there’s no greater bond than our relationship,” according to Herzog’s office.

“There are only two countries that were created with the idea, conceived in liberty but dedicated to the idea that everybody’s equal,” he continued, repeating a theme he touched on with Netanyahu.

McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, was also due to hold a press conference after addressing a special Knesset plenum to mark Israel’s 75th birthday.

The Republican lawmaker landed in Israel on Sunday for a two-day visit after a stop in Jordan.

McCarthy, who was set to become only the second US House speaker to address Israel’s parliament, was greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by his Israeli counterpart Amir Ohana of the Likud party before heading for the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana plays Hotel California during a reception at the Knesset in Jerusalem for US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, April 30, 2023. (Screenshot: YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Hours after landing, McCarthy said that if US President Joe Biden does not invite  Netanyahu to visit the White House soon, he will invite the Israeli leader to meet with Congress.

In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper, McCarthy addressed Biden’s ongoing refusal to welcome Netanyahu to Washington, amid disagreements over the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

“If [an invitation to the White House] doesn’t happen, I’ll invite the prime minister to come meet with the House. He’s a dear friend, as a prime minister of a country that we have our closest ties with,” McCarthy told the newspaper.

The speaker said that Biden has already waited “too long now. He should invite him soon.”

McCarthy joked that Biden had also not been speaking with him for the past few months, and therefore Netanyahu “might be in good company if he treats me the same way.”

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (center) and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (left) arrive for a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 30, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Netanyahu has been angling for an invite to the White House since he returned to office in late December. But US-Israel ties have been somewhat strained both due to the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul legislation, as well as comments made by the far-right elements of Netanyahu’s government.

While Barack Obama was president, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress in 2015, bypassing Obama, in what was widely seen as an unprecedented broadside against the sitting US leader.

While Netanyahu and his Likud party have long been seen as more allied with Republican than Democratic lawmakers, the prime minister has worked since returning to office to buck the notion that he has strained ties with the party currently controlling the White House.

Then-US vice president Joe Biden shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (Ariel Schalit/AP/File)

And while prominent Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — considered a 2024 contender — visited Israel last week and met with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s Office issued no statements or photographs from the meeting.

National Security Adviser Tzahi Hanegbi acknowledged Friday that Netanyahu’s White House invitation has likely not come because of the judicial overhaul, but stressed that US-Israel ties remain strong.

“It is clear to me that if there were no legal reform, Netanyahu would already have visited the White House,” Hanegbi told Channel 12.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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