It's safe to say that President Herzog's speech in front of a joint session of Congress marks a significant highlight in his political career. No less than 30 standing ovations were noted during his speech by members of Congress, several of whom have substantial ties to Israel.
While political divisions between Democrats and Republicans are as deep as they ever were, these were nevertheless kept at bay with a speech that touched on democracy, protesters, shared values and the importance of liberty.
While Herzog's delivery did not exactly rise to JFK's "ask not" sweeping charisma, he does speak eloquent English, and the number of standing ovations could stand as a testament to that effect. He based his speech on the fortitude and independence of the Israeli Supreme Court and the ever-present Iranian nuclear shadow cast over Israeli consciousness, clarifying the unshakable bond between Israel and the United States.
At 35 minutes long, the speech was held in the spacious house chamber. U.S senators graced the front two rows, with Democrats on the right and Republicans on the left. The foreign diplomatic core sat further back, and included former Polish ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski. Out of a total of 535 members of Congress (435 House members and 100 senators), only five decided not to attend, citing Israel's treatment of Palestinians as the reason.
By comparison, in Netanyahu's 2015 speech, which primarily touched on the Iranian nuclear issue, attendees stood up 24 times in total, but that perhaps could be attributed to the controversial nature of the speech. In Herzog's speech, and most fervent of ovations were noted when the Israeli President brought up the LBGT pride parade in Tel Aviv. Unsurprisingly, it didn't particularly sit well with conservative Republicans who conspicuously remained seated, but other than that, it was a bipartisan affair.
In a marvelous familial coincidence, it was Herzog's father, Haim, who was the first ever Israeli President to address a joint session of Congress, with his son being the second. "This is the honor of a lifetime," Herzog said, visibly shaken by the commemoration of Israel's 75th anniversary. "I thank you."
President Herzog mentioned the meeting held between his grandfather Aizik and former U.S President Harry Truman, thanking him for his support in establishing the state of Israel. Herzog then pointed out the presence of Truman's eldest grandson Clifton, a writer and PR executive, who then stood up to receive a standing ovation of his own.
U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Jewish member of Congress representing New York's 12th congressional district, was particularly excited, waving the Israeli flag. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who extended the invitation to Herzog and likes to ceaselessly mention Israeli poet Ehud Manor's song "Ein Li Eretz Aheret" ("I have no other land"), seemed to relish the occasion.
The crowd cheered when Herzog brought up Iran. Republicans stood up first, followed closely by Democrats. This was followed by an enthusiastic eruption when the Israeli President said it's unacceptable to let the Islamic Republic turn into a nuclear threshold state. Notable cheers were also registered upon the mention of the importance of establishing peace with Israel's Palestinian and Saudi neighbors, while not giving a pass to acts of terror against Israelis.
"True peace cannot be anchored in violence," Herzog said. "Terror is not a bump in the road. Terror is hatred and bloodshed. It contradicts humanity's most basic principles of peace. Israel cannot and will not tolerate terror and we know that in this we are joined by the United States of America."
A particularly moving moment occurred when Herzog brought up the issue of war prisoners and missing soldiers, which is when he presented to the crowd Leah Goldin, the mother of Hadar Goldin, the late Givati Brigade Lieutenant who died in 2014.
Israel's founding document, the Declaration of Independence, was mentioned twice in Herzog's delivery, perhaps mildly alluding to judicial overhaul protests rocking Israel to its core in recent months. While noting the "cracks" posed by the heated debate in Israeli society, Herzog nevertheless noted "I have great confidence in Israeli democracy. Although we are working through sour issues, just like you, I know our democracy is strong and resilient. Israel has democracy in its DNA."
Underscoring to those who may have forgotten, Herzog showed that Netanyahu is not the only Israeli official capable of carrying an entire speech in fluent English. He signed off by saying: "Am Israel Hai (Israel lives). God bless the State of Israel and God bless the United States of America."