President Reuven Rivlin left Sunday on his first official visit to the United States, where he will address a UN session marking 70 years since the end of the Holocaust.
His trip comes at a point of high tension between Israel and Washington after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted a controversial invitation to address a joint session of Congress in early March in a move which was not coordinated with the White House.
During the five-day trip, Rivlin will be in New York to address a UN Special Assembly on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Tuesday at the invitation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, his office said.
Rivlin, who took office as Israel’s 10th president in July, will also hold talks with Ban and meet members of the African-American, Hispanic and Jewish communities.
“Israel is not compensation for the Holocaust, but the Holocaust proved beyond any shadow of a doubt why there was a need for the State of Israel,” Rivlin said in a statement, adding that he was taking with him “those voices of those who perished” in the Nazi genocide.
Netanyahu’s visit to Washington will take place in early March, just two weeks before snap elections in Israel, and the White House has already said that President Barack Obama will not meet the Israeli leader, given the proximity to the vote.
The Obama administration fears Netanyahu’s address, which is to focus on the threat he sees from Iran, could be used by the Republicans — who control Congress — to undermine ongoing nuclear talks with Tehran just as they appear poised to bear fruit.
In his statement, Rivlin emphasized that Washington “was a true friend and important ally of Israel.”