Herzog Washington visit sets off demonstrations throughout Capitol Hill

Herzog Washington visit sets off demonstrations throughout Capitol Hill
The demonstrators against Herzog, mainly Israelis and Palestinians from various political positions, were out around Capitol Hill throughout the day.
3 min read
20 July, 2023

The Israeli president's visit and speech in Washington, DC, Wednesday elicited demonstrations throughout the day from various groups protesting his US political welcome at a time when his country is facing increased scrutiny over its treatment of Palestinians and planned judicial overhaul.

The demonstrations took place on the day of Israeli President Isaac Herzog's speech at a joint session of Congress, in which in spoke before both the House of Representatives and the Senate, considered one of the highest honours of a visiting statesperson.

The demonstrators, mainly Israelis and Palestinians from a range of political positions, were out at different locations around Capitol Hill throughout the day.

"Our group came out here today to oppose the visit of the Israeli president who spoke at the Capitol in front of Congress," Sammy Alqasem, an organiser with the Palestinian Youth Movement, told The New Arab while taking part in a demonstration at a busy overpass downtown Wednesday afternoon.

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"Whether it's the president, the prime minister, or even a lowly government worker, they all play a part in the ethnic cleansing of our historic land of Palestine."

The gatherings, which started in the morning and continued into the late evening, were among the largest since the visit of Israel's finance minister Bezalel Smotrich in March.

Wednesday's speech followed a previous meeting between Herzog and US President Joe Biden, in which the two discussed their countries' close ties and mutual interests.

"Israeli democracy is tough and resilient, and we should definitely see the current debate in Israel with all facets as a tribute to the strength of Israeli democracy," Herzog told reporters after he met with Biden.

Herzog's position as president is mainly ceremonial, unlike Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right policies were protested by a general Democratic walkout led by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when he gave his congressional speech in 2015 in defiance of then-US President Barack Obama. Biden, who was vice president at the time, also did not attend.

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With this visit, however, a growing number of Democrats, particularly members of the left-wing squad, including Bernie Sanders, boycotted the Israeli politician's speech. 

These demonstrations will likely be more significant when Netanyahu visits, which is expected in the coming months following an invitation from Biden this week.

"The reason they invited Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel, to DC is because I think they are aware of the fact that if they brought Benjamin Netanyahu, a much more controversial and much more widely known figure, they understand that there would be much more popular resistance," Ben Zinevich, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, demonstrating alongside the Palestinian Youth Movement, told TNA.

"For Biden to maintain his veneer of progressive politics, it would contradict that greatly in the visual of him standing beside Netanyahu. He did, however, announce that he would invite Netanyahu in the coming months to DC. This is obviously a rehearsal of what's to come."