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Israel 'has forged peace before and can do it again'

Accepting medal, emotional Biden says Israel’s success ‘close to miraculous to me’

US leader stresses his deep love for Jewish state, says it ‘will never be alone,’ invites Herzog to White House

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog presents the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor to US President Joe Biden at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. on July 14, 2022. (Haim Zach / GPO)
President Isaac Herzog presents the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor to US President Joe Biden at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. on July 14, 2022. (Haim Zach / GPO)

US President Joe Biden delivered a heartfelt speech alongside his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog Thursday night, calling his love for Israel “deep-rooted.”

In an address that ranged from Irish poetry to the Bible, Biden said “seeing Israel thrive, seeing the wildest dreams of Israel’s founding fathers and mothers grow into a reality that Israel’s children enjoy today, to me is close to miraculous.”

The US president, who regularly discusses his Catholic faith, quoted from the Torah portion of Balak in the Book of Numbers, in which Israel is called “the people that dwell alone.”

“As I look out at these proud, strong Israelis in the audience,” he continued, “at the nation that made the desert bloom and built the Iron Dome, I see people who are growing more secure, more integrated, more confident and have greater relations with their neighbors. A nation that has forged peace before and can do it again.

“And a nation that will never dwell alone, because as long as there’s the United States you will never be alone.”

US President Joe Biden, left, speaks at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, before President Isaac Herzog presents him with the Presidential Medal of Honor, on July 14, 2022. (Avishag Shaar-Yashuv / GPO)

Biden spoke before being awarded the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor by Herzog, calling the decoration “one of the greatest honors of my career, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”

White House invitation

Before the speech, the two sat for a one-on-one meeting.

Biden told Herzog that he can call him at any time and invited Israel’s president to the White House, according to Herzog’s office.

Herzog brought up the issue of the Israelis held captive by Hamas in Gaza. He also laid out some of his ideas on tackling climate change that have come out of the president’s climate forum.

The two men also spoke about their personal connections to Ireland. Both have Irish ancestry.

Speaking next to Biden after the tête-à-tête — and a 15-minute sitdown between Biden and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — Herzog stressed that the US and Israel “are united in our opposition to Iran’s terror and drive for a nuclear weapons capability, which is the greatest threat to this region, and perhaps the world at large.”

The Israeli president painted a picture of a “challenged world order,” with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He emphasized that strong Israel-US relations are critical to regional and global stability, peace and prosperity.

“Together, we can create not only a new Middle East, but a renewable Middle East — a regional ecosystem of sustainable peace,” said Herzog.

Text written by US President Joe Biden in the guestbook of the Israeli President’s Residence during a meeting with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. (President’s Spokesperson’s Office)

“Under your leadership, we can continue transforming our region from a source of global tension to a source of global stability and progress. The Middle East can grow into a meeting point for climate innovation and combined medical research, clean energy and peaceful exchange among faiths and peoples. This is the blessing you will bring in the coming days to your meetings in Jeddah.”

Herzog also praised Biden’s firm stance against antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel.

The Israeli president concluded by revealing that in their one-on-one meeting, he gave Biden the minutes of the latter’s meeting with former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir almost 50 years ago, found in Israel’s national archives.

US President Joe Biden speaks at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, before President Isaac Herzog presents him with the Presidential Medal of Honor, on July 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A diplomat who took down those minutes wrote of Biden: “The senator was full of respect and admiration for the prime minister and repeatedly said that he had come to learn, but, on the other hand was carried away by his enthusiasm.”

Biden arrived at the President’s Residence late in the afternoon, where he was greeted on the red carpet by Herzog and wife Michal.

The trio spoke with Israeli schoolchildren dressed in white, who vigorously waved Israeli and US flags.

Daring and creative language. Rabbi Isaac Herzog (photo credit: Israel National Photo Collection)
Rabbi Isaac Herzog (photo credit: Israel National Photo Collection)

Entering the residence, Biden placed his arm around Herzog before he signed the guestbook on a desk inlaid with mother-of-pearl that once belonged to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

“Bougie, my friend,” Biden wrote in the President’s Residence guestbook, using Herzog’s nickname. “Thank you for all you and your family have done to deepen the ironclad bond between our two great countries.

“From our shared Irish roots to our shared love of Israel, we are united in heart and spirit. May our friendship endure and continue to grow! ”

After signing, Biden stopped in front of cameras and stressed their shared Irish connections, saying that Herzog’s grandfather, Chief Rabbi of Ireland Isaac HaLevi Herzog, was known as the “Sinn Fein Rabbi.”

Herzog quotes former US president Ronald Reagan, who said when meeting former president Chaim Herzog — the current president’s father — “It’s a great day for the Irish.”

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