Israel President Herzog’s ‘honest’ speech to the US Congress

Here’s what a truthful Herzog would admit at the Capitol on Wednesday: apartheid against Palestinians is corroding Israel itself.

I am honoured to speak to you today at the 75th anniversary of my country’s independence. It is an honour that neither I nor my country deserves.

Throughout our history, your steadfast and generous support has made Israel what it is today. President Woodrow Wilson supported the 1917 Balfour Declaration at the behest of the British Empire, committing to our future Jewish state – a commitment made by those who did not own the land to those who did not live on the land, against the will of those who did live on it.

And it was President Harry Truman who first supported the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan to carve that land into a Jewish and Palestinian state, and the first to recognise Israel only 11 minutes after its establishment in 1948. Since then, we have been telling each other how our nations were founded by persecuted migrant communities on the basis of European Enlightenment; how they created strong, vibrant modern states, civilising the savage, and how we have dominated global and Middle East affairs.

We tell each other a tale of how they founded two righteous, God-fearing models to emulate, like “shining beacon of hope” and “light unto the nations”; of sharing common liberal, democratic principles, and of our persistent pursuit of peace.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we should admit that we have also copied the worst of imperial Europe. We share a dark past of settler colonialism, war, ethnic cleansing of Indigenous inhabitants and a persistent history of racism and discrimination including slavery in the Americas, and apartheid in Palestine.Our success was made possible through the blood and tears of countless victims. We’ve treated our nemeses as warmongers, our critics as enemies, and our enemies as modern-day Hitlers, but no other states have waged as many wars, or embarked on as many military interventions in the past eight decades as we have.

These similarities between our two nations continue to cast a long shadow over our bonds and behaviour.

Since our birth, Israel has had no better ally than the United States. Period. Even though, we have not always been gracious or reciprocated – while generally following in your footsteps, befriending your friends and denouncing your foes.

Whenever the world ganged up on our “Jewish state”, America came to the rescue. When Soviet bloc nations joined Muslim and other developing nations to condemn us for our bellicosity, it was the US that defended us and placated our foes with vigour and zeal. And when Europe joined the international outrage, the US was the only major power ready and able to stand by Israel and block international censures by vetoing consequential UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel.Indeed, with the exception of that one “mistake” under Jimmy Carter, when Washington voted against Israeli settlement expansion, the US has routinely vetoed efforts to condemn Israel at the United Nations Security Council, blocking more than 40 such resolutions.And this week, when a US Congresswoman – one of your own – called Israel racist, you, dear members of Congress, quickly shut her down by proclaiming in a resolution that Israel is not racist. Though I might have put it differently, she was essentially right, you are wrong.

Thanks to you, we have become more confident and assertive. With your military and economic aid that reached some $200bn, we have built a formidable military machine, that allowed us to double down on the repression of the Palestinians, and humiliation of the stubborn Arabs, who refuse to accept our pretence that our culture is superior to theirs, and that our settlement of their land is ours by right of a brief sojourn here a few thousand years ago.

When my late beloved father Chaim spoke to you as president of Israel in 1987, he boasted of our peace accords with Sadat of Egypt. And I am inclined to walk in his shoes and do the same; to boast of our Abraham accords with several Arab autocrats.

But unlike him, I can no longer keep silent as our military and civilian occupation mutates into an apartheid system in the Middle East. I do not say that lightly; I say it with a heavy heart. I do not say it out of pity for the millions of Palestinians, most of whom stubbornly linger under occupation and in refugee camps, I say it out of pity for my people and what’s become of us as decades-long occupiers and dispossessors. Our chutzpah is self-defeating. Our hasbara is wearing thin.

I never was a particularly brave or charismatic parliamentarian and head of the opposition. But that stops now, knowing I will never again have a better platform to address your people and mine. We may have become rich and powerful but we’ve never been so divided, so fanatical; so morally bankrupt.

Friends speak truth to each other. Good friends speak the bitter truth. It befalls upon you, once again, to save us from ourselves. To free us and the Palestinians from an entrenching system of apartheid that is bound to lock us in hatred and violence for decades to come. There is little I can do, as a ceremonial president, other than to speak out.

So, I urge you to condemn racism and apartheid today, as you condemned apartheid in South Africa, albeit belatedly in the past. And I urge you to push us to come to terms with the Palestinians, who soon will become the majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Do not believe a word Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says about the Palestinians; he has made a career out of trafficking in fear.

Like my two predecessors, I also believe we have a peace partner in President Mahmoud Abbas; perhaps the last peace partner. We must stop undermining him, as we will never be as lucky with a strong yet accommodating leader.

My father boasted of our liberal democracy and respect for human rights, albeit for Jews only, considering that in our Jewish state, the right to the land, the right to settle (return), and the right to self-determination is for the Jewish collective.

But even this communitarianism has eroded with time, culminating in a government of hyper-nationalists and religious fanatics that is demonstrably bent on destroying our Jewish democracy and squashing our liberal values.

Hundreds of thousands of my fellow Jewish countrymen and women have taken to the streets every week to protest against new illiberal legislation that is bound to chip away at our institutions and freedoms, and destroy any hope of future peace and democracy in the Jewish state.

This destruction will happen if you, members of this august symbol of constitutional democracy, continue to outbid yourselves in appeasing us as we stumble towards religious autocracy. Your intentions to invite our lying, cheating prime minister to speak here for a record fourth time will only make things worse.

President Biden is right to be concerned and to warn our government of going down this road. So should you. It is a dangerous road that is bound to destroy the fabric of our society.

I urge you to be brave and principled, for a change. It is liberating, as I have discovered.



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