Repeats informal DC invitation for PM if no Biden invite

McCarthy extols ties at Knesset, vows full support for Israeli security against Iran

In warm speech to parliament, US House speaker lauds historic connection of Jewish people to the land; later says checks on government power a crucial part of democracy

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks at a special session of the Knesset plenum, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks at a special session of the Knesset plenum, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In an effusive and enthusiastic speech to the Knesset plenum, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy pledged Monday that the US would continue to fully fund Israel’s security needs, while denouncing Iranian aggression in the Middle East, as well as efforts to isolate Israel internationally.

In a speech replete with both praise for Israel and biblical quotations, McCarthy lauded Israel as the birthplace of the Jewish people, described the country as a “modern miracle,” and insisted on its right to defend itself from attack.

And he spoke of the importance of bipartisan support for Israel from both Republicans and Democrats as crucial for the relationship between the two countries.

In later comments, he repeated his statement that he would invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington if US President Joe Biden continues to refuse to do so, but said such a visit would be conducted in a bipartisan manner, with meetings with Republicans and Democrats.

He also weighed in on the government’s controversial judicial overhaul program, saying checks on government power were a crucial part of democracy, but maintained that the issue was an internal Israeli matter that should be resolved by Israelis.

McCarthy was warmly welcomed to the Knesset by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, Netanyahu, and opposition leader Yair Lapid, and received a strong round of applause from the assembled MKs after he finished his speech.

The US House speaker began his address by pointing out that his visit to Israel was his first international engagement since being sworn in in January.

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks at a special session of the Knesset plenum, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“And I chose to come here now – today – to celebrate the bond between our two countries and to reaffirm that bipartisan support for Israel in Congress is at the foundation for our truly special relationship,” said McCarthy.

He declared that “the land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people” and affirmed the historical connection of the land to the Jewish nation.

“Ladies and gentlemen: Israel’s rebirth is nothing less than a modern miracle,” he continued, praising Israel’s survival in the face of war and terrorism, and its “story of pioneers… inspired by a commitment to freedom, family, and faith in God.”

He also claimed that the US and Israel were “the only two countries in history that were conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we are all equal,” saying these principles were the foundation of the special relationship between the two countries.

McCarthy said Congress wanted to help Israel “broaden and deepen” the Abraham Accords, signed with four Arab countries in 2020, while “working for a sustainable peace with all of Israel’s neighbors,” in what may have been a vague reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic that was otherwise entirely absent from his address.

Addressing Iran’s regional activity and support for terror groups and militias, McCarthy said the one primary source of “turmoil” in the Middle East was Iran, which, he said, “continues to fund terrorism, arm its proxy militias, and pursue nuclear weapons.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a special session of the Knesset plenum for US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He said the US would continue to assist Israel in defending its security against Iran’s efforts to “encircle Israel with hostile forces” and develop nuclear weapons, noting Israel’s integration into US Central Command and joint military exercises between the two countries.

“As long as I am speaker, America will continue to support full funding for security assistance in Israel… And as we stand shoulder to shoulder against Iran’s regional aggression, we must also remain resolute in our commitment that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons,” said McCarthy.

The speaker also raised concerns regarding Chinese industrial espionage, saying US and Israeli technological developments were threatened by the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to steal technological intellectual property from Western companies.

Accusing the CCP of acting “like thieves,” McCarthy said the US was working to protect its innovation and called on Israel to “further strengthen its oversight of foreign investment – particularly Chinese investment” in order to stymie such activity.

Before McCarthy’s speech, Netanyahu welcomed him to the Knesset and averred that Israel had “no better friend on the planet” than the US.

“You’re in the pulsating heart of Israeli democracy… it’s a very noisy heart,” he continued, and, in reference to his government’s judicial overhaul program, insisted that he and his coalition were “committed to trying to get a broad consensus, as broad as we can get, on the matter of judicial reform.”

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

At a press conference following McCarthy’s speech, the House speaker repeated his comments made in an interview with Israel Hayom on Monday that he would invite Netanyahu to Washington if Biden does not.

“I expect the White House to invite the prime minister over for a meeting especially because of Israel’s 75th anniversary,” said McCarthy following Biden’s recent comments that Netanyahu would not be receiving an invite to Washington in the near future.

Asked whether he would invite the prime minister to address Congress if no White House invitation was forthcoming, McCarthy said “Yes” and noted that he had “a long relationship with the prime minister.”

McCarthy said it would be appropriate for the prime minister to visit Washington, but added that such a trip would include bipartisan meetings with Republicans and Democrats from the House of Representatives.

Addressing the coalition’s judicial shakeup program, McCarthy said that checks on governmental power were an important part of democratic government, but insisted that judicial reform in Israel is an internal issue and that it should be decided by the Israeli public.

“Israel is their own nation, only it can decide what it wants to do. In a democracy, you want checks and balances and a separation of powers… but we leave it up to you how to decide that,” said McCarthy.

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