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Israeli President Isaac Herzog set to address Congress


Israel's president, Isaac Herzog, is set to address a joint meeting of Congress today, a day after the House passed a bipartisan resolution in support of the state of Israel. The resolution was drafted after the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, lashed out over Israel's treatment of Palestinians, calling Israel racist. She later apologized and said she was referring only to the policies of the current right-wing government. Herzog's visit also coincides with the decision by Israel's parliament to take a final vote next week on judicial restrictions that have drawn massive street protests throughout Israel. To get the context around this visit, we're turning to Josef Federman of the Associated Press in Jerusalem. Good morning, Josef.

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Good morning.

FADEL: So I want to start with these House Democrats that are going to boycott Herzog's speech to protest Israel's treatment of Palestinians. How is this being received in Israel?

FEDERMAN: I think people are looking at the big picture. You mentioned this vote that was passed, this resolution that was passed, and it was overwhelming bipartisan support in favor of Israel. So I think people are trying to look at the positive. You know, that said, there are some underlying issues here. And opinion polls show that Israel is becoming increasingly a partisan issue in Washington, with Republicans more in favor of supporting Israel than Democrats and older Democrats, establishment Democrats, more strongly favoring Israel over the younger generation. So you see that in this vote with the progressive wing voting against the resolution and threatening to stay away from this speech today.

FADEL: Now, President Herzog already visited with President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. What do we know about those meetings?

FEDERMAN: We've seen in The New York Times today extraordinary statement from the president being very critical of what's going on here in Israel. What I think we will see today, what I expect to see based on my talks with the president's office, is that the president is going to try to glance over these differences. He's going to try to stress the positive, the deep years of friendship, this bipartisan support that we just mentioned, Israel's security challenges. But that will be lurking in the background. And you have to wonder - you know, these meetings are very polite out in public, but you have to wonder what sort of messages are being delivered behind the scenes and what sorts of messages they want Herzog, the president, to deliver back to the prime minister.

FADEL: Now, this is coming, as you mentioned, among higher tensions with the U.S. Biden has referred to ministers in Netanyahu's government as extremists, criticized the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. But he is meeting - or he has met with Herzog, and he's invited Netanyahu. What does this say about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel?

FEDERMAN: Well, one important thing, this meeting with Herzog was planned, actually, last year, long before the current Israeli government even took office. This is meant to celebrate Israel's 75th anniversary of independence. So it really is not reflective of the White House - Israeli government. You mentioned they've been talking about extremist elements of this government. I think it's an issue. Biden has repeatedly hinted that it's an issue.

FADEL: Josef Federman is the Associated Press news director for Israel and the Palestinian territories. Thank you for your time.

FEDERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.