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Herzog in US ‘palatable’ cover for Israeli violence against Palestinians, activists say

Israeli president Isaac Herzog (L) meets with his US counterpart Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on July 18, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Several Jewish American groups have stridently criticized the visit by Israeli president Isaac Herzog to the US, describing him as a more “palatable” representative of the Tel Aviv regime complicit in the occupation and discrimination of Palestinians. 

They said even though the 62-year-old Israeli politician, whose role is widely considered a ceremonial one, may not be an ally to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu or an official part of his far-right cabinet, he should not be seen as an outsider to the Israeli regime and its apartheid policies towards Palestinians across the occupied territories.

“His role in this moment is to prevent international accountability for Israel's actions at a time when accountability is the only thing that can possibly stop not only Netanyahu's current authoritarian takeover, but decades of illegal occupation and apartheid,” Eva Borgwardt, political director of IfNotNow, a movement of American Jews organizing their communities to end US support for Israel's apartheid system, said.

“As he has done for years, Herzog is calling for endless negotiation and compromise with extremists while (the so-called) judicial overhaul and brutal and violent repression of Palestinians in the West Bank march ahead,” Borgwardt noted.

Earlier this week, IfnotNow and the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) fully endorsed the decision by some lawmakers – including llhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Cori Bush – to  boycott his address in Congress on Wednesday.

Other Jewish groups said Herzog's visit presents a rare opportunity for US legislators to raise concerns over the rapidly deteriorating conditions across the occupied Palestinian lands.

“I think [lawmakers] should use the spotlight that his visit brings to raise the issues of settler violence, settler expansion, creeping annexation, discrimination in occupied territories, and raises the issue of Israel's own struggles – the judicial coup – that is happening,” Hadar Susskind, president of Americans for Peace Now (APN), noted.

The so-called judicial overhaul scheme seeks to take away the Israeli supreme court’s power to overrule decisions made by the regime’s politicians. It is also aimed at giving the Israeli cabinet a greater say in the process of selecting judges to the court.

Critics say it will remove necessary checks on the power that is wielded by the politicians.

They also say Netanyahu, who is on trial on several counts of corruption charges, is trying to use the scheme to quash possible verdicts against him.

Ignoring the incessant protests, the Knesset went ahead on Monday to approve the first reading of the highly controversial and divisive plan. The bill has to clear two more readings before it can be signed into law.

On Tuesday, JVP described Israel as a “racist” regime in a statement, adding that “representatives should not be honoring an apartheid politician in the Capitol.”

The group called on more lawmakers to boycott the Israeli president's speech.

“Herzog presides over an extremist cabinet bent on the total destruction of Palestinian homes and lives.

“Our elected officials should be standing for Palestinian rights, not honoring the president of an apartheid regime,” JVP added.

IfnotNow also released a statement in which they lauded the US lawmakers who chose to skip Herzog's speech.

“Lawmakers measuring Herzog's record against democratic values of freedom and equality are right to find him falling unacceptably short," Borgwadt from IfNotNow said.

New York-based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) said it supported the decision by Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez to steer clear of Herzog's address.

JFREJ described Herzog as a more “palatable representative to cover up the violent reality on the ground.”

“Israel's occupation and apartheid policies predate this extremist administration. Herzog is a representative of the regime responsible for those policies as they continue to escalate,” Audrey Sasson, JFREJ's executive director, said.

“He does not deserve a warm welcome in Congress,” Sasson said. 

Outspoken Jewish writer Peter Beinart lauded the quintet who decided to boycott Herzog in Congress.

“It should be no surprise that progressives like Omar, Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez – who are fighting desperately against ethno-nationalists who want to entrench white Christian supremacy in the United States – would boycott an Israeli president who has made Jewish supremacy the guiding principle of his political career,” Beinart wrote in The Guardian.

Rights advocates say Herzog’s visit will be a boost to the unquestionable US support for Israel at a time when many of them are asking President Joe Biden to pressure Netanyahu’s cabinet to end abuses against Palestinians.

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