Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) projected bipartisan support for Israel in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on Monday, despite tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Biden.
McCarthy underscored the unity among Republicans and Democrats who traveled to Israel as part of a bipartisan delegation.
“I choose to come here today to celebrate the bond between our two countries and to reaffirm the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress,” McCarthy said, calling congressional support “the foundation for our truly special relationship.”
The Speaker earlier in the trip said he would invite Netanyahu to Washington if Biden doesn’t — just days after the president said he had no immediate plans to do so.
Biden has spoken out against Netanyahu’s pursuit of a plan to overhaul Israel’s judiciary, which U.S. lawmakers have also been watching with deep concern. The overhaul is vehemently opposed by much of the Israeli public.
McCarthy, responding to a reporter’s question after his speech, said he expects the White House to invite Netanyahu for a meeting, in particular to mark Israel’s 75th anniversary. He said the only leader so far invited for a joint session of Congress is Israel’s President Isaac Herzog.
If McCarthy does invite the prime minister to Washington, it could serve as a replay of Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to a joint session of Congress rejecting the Obama administration’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.
That speech helped exacerbate the split between Republicans and Democrats on Israel, with the GOP establishing itself firmly as an ally supporting Netanyahu’s vision of confrontation with Iran and with the Palestinians.
McCarthy did not endorse a two-state solution with the Palestinians in his speech, but he said the U.S. and Israel “stand shoulder to shoulder against Iran’s regional aggression.”
“We cannot allow the Iran regime’s evil campaign to succeed,” he said.
The California Republican, who has pressured Biden to make spending cuts as a condition of Congress raising the federal debt ceiling, also pledged to fully fund security assistance for Israel. The U.S. approved $3.8 billion in military assistance and missile defense for fiscal 2023.
“To deter Iran’s dangerous behavior, our nations must continue to stand together. We, the United States, integrated Israel into our central command and are continuing to carry out military exercises together. As long as I am speaker, America will continue to support fully funding security assistance for Israel,” he said.
McCarthy also announced the creation of a “House Knesset parliamentary friendship group,” which will allow House members to engage more directly with the Israeli parliamentary body and host members of the Knesset who wish to travel to the U.S.
“Our values are your values. Our heritage is your heritage. Our dreams are your dreams,” McCarthy said. “America is grateful for our friendship with Israel. We are a better nation because of it, and we must never shy away from defending it.”
McCarthy highlighted that he traveled to Israel with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the former House Majority Leader, to mark the nation’s 75th anniversary.
In a press conference following McCarthy’s speech, Hoyer endorsed the speaker’s remarks.
“Mr. Speaker, it was an excellent speech. And you delivered it well. And it expressed the sentiment of our country.”
While McCarthy largely centered his speech on support for Israel and standing up against Iran, he did raise concerns about Israel’s relations with China.
“Today, however, our innovation is at risk from a new threat: The Chinese Communist Party. While the CCP may disguise itself as promoters of innovation and truth. They act like thieves. We must not allow them to steal our technology,” McCarthy said.
“I’m glad that Israel has put into place a process to review foreign investments. I strongly encourage Israel to further strengthen its oversight of foreign investment, particularly Chinese investment, building on the steps that you first took in 2019.”
McCarthy is only the second House Speaker to address the Israeli Knesset following a 1998 address by then-Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to mark the nation’s 50th anniversary.
It’s another milestone for McCarthy in establishing his foreign policy priorities as House Speaker, following a precedent-setting meeting with Taiwan’s president in California last month.