Earlier this week, Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ Dist. 5) spent two and a half days in Israel.
(“It was so intense, I lost track of time, but I think it was two and a half days,” he said on Tuesday afternoon, soon after he landed. Then he checked his dates and confirmed them. “Yes. Two and a half days.”)
The trip, to mark Israel’s 75th birthday on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, included 11 Democratic members of Congress; four of them are Jewish, Mr. Gottheimer said. (That number includes Mr. Gottheimer.)
The delegation was led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who represents N.Y.’s 8th District. “It’s his first foreign trip as leader,” Mr. Gottheimer said.
The trip was packed with meetings. “We met with the prime minister, the president, Ambassador Nides, the speaker of the Knesset, and with Lapid,” Mr. Gottheimer said. (That’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, Speaker Amir Ohana, and opposition leader Yair Lapid.) “We went to Yad Vashem. We met with leaders of Palestinian start-up companies, and last night we went to a ceremony marking Yom HaZikaron.”
Mr. Gottheimer said the delegation was there to mark Israel’s 75th birthday and he steered clear of any discussion of the turbulent political situation there. “We were there to celebrate the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” he said. “Tonight, we are going to introduce a resolution of the Abraham Accords in Congress. I am one of the six cosponsors of the accords.”
Throughout their discussions with government officials, “we focused on Iran, the Abraham Accords, Russia, China, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Authority,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “We talked about judicial reform, and the overall leadership of the cabinet. We talked about Saudi Arabia and its recent activities with Iran.”
He does not think it appropriate to discuss the situation around the proposed judicial reforms and the opposition to it that have been roiling the country. “I am comfortable saying that I believe that my point of view should be kept private, so I will keep it private,” he said. “It is a democracy. We have seen heavy protests. That’s what happens in a democracy. People express their perspectives in a healthy, thriving democracy.”
The important part of the trip, he said, “the real news, is that Hakeem Jeffries, the leader of the Democratic caucus, went to Israel, to demonstrate how vital the relationship between Israel and the United States is, how central Israel is to our national security, to fighting terror. We made clear that Israel is a vital ally of the United States, not only militarily but also economically, in terms of a shared defense, in healthcare, in so many areas. We have such a strong bond.
“We also went to Yad Vashem, and we talked about it. It is a reminder of why we have to stand up to antisemitism, both at home and around the world.”
Mr. Gottheimer is vehement about how important Israel is to the United States. “It is a vital relationship, and it should transcend whether we agree or disagree with the leadership,” he said. “The importance of the relationship should transcend differences. The detractors will see this as an opportunity to drive wedges between us, and we can’t allow it.
“Our relationship with Israel is a vital relationship,” he repeated emphatically.