Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the July 4 celebration at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Monday to make the Western Wall a place where all Jews can feel at home.
“I am committed, and I remain committed, to making every Jew feel at home in Israel, including at the Kotel,” he said at the annual July 4th ceremony at the US ambassador’s residence in Herzliya. “All we need is patience and perseverance.”
Netanyahu referred to the Wall, after saying the bond between Israel and the US “was so evident in the historic visit of President [Donald] Trump to Israel.” Netanyahu said Israel will always remember that Trump was the first president to make his first foreign trip to Israel.
Netanyahu also said Trump’s speech at the Israel Museum left an “indelible mark,” and that many Israelis were “so uplifted by the speech, by the spirit of friendship and solidarity that the president expressed with Israel.”
And when the president, Netanyahu said, “decided as the first US sitting president to visit the Western Wall, and he touched those stones, he touched our hearts, as did first lady Melania, and Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka.”
Netanyahu recalled that his brother Yonatan was killed on July 4, 1976, 200 years after America’s independence, securing the freedom of the hostages at Entebbe.
“Two centuries separate July 4, 1776, and July 4, 1976,” Netanyahu said. “But to me they are unified by a common ideal – the fight for freedom. I am reminded of that parallel every year at this time. Israel and America are two bastions of liberty defending our common civilizations.”
Friedman, who preceded Netanyahu to the podium, quipped that the last time he threw a party in Israel was 45 years ago, at his bar mitzva at the Western Wall.
In a speech shot through with biblical references, Friedman noted that so much of what makes up being American is “derived from the teachings of ancient Israel. Perhaps for that reason it is no surprise that the United States and Israel have the most special of special relations.”
He said that while the two countries have common enemies, which unites them, as well as extraordinary cooperation along a wide range of areas, which also unites them, “at our collective core, what fundamentally unites us is that we are the two shining cities on the hill joined together by shared history, shared values, and I believe a shared destiny of continued greatness.”
Friedman made a point during his speech to remember Hadar Goldin, the IDF soldier whose body is being held by Hamas in Gaza.
“Let us take a moment to reflect upon Hadar, and upon every soldier of the United States armed forces, and the Israel Defense Forces, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of their respective nation.
We are here only because of their courage, their bravery and their sacrifice.”
Friedman ended his words by saying God should bless “the unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel.
Earlier in the day, Friedman – who once called the left-wing American organization J Street “worse than kapos” – met with the group’s leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami, and seven US congressmen in the country under the group’s auspices.
The meeting came less than a week after Friedman, in his first public address since becoming ambassador, referred to his past comments about J Street, and said, “I am as guilty as anyone else for having entered the partisan divide that has, unfortunately, to some extent fractured the Jewish community in the US and in Israel. But it has to end.”
He pledged “to treat the Jewish people of whatever stripe, whatever political views, with the same dignity and respect that they all deserve.
And I hope we all do the same. We must turn the page.”
Following the meeting, Ben-Ami – who ardently opposed Friedman’s appointment as ambassador – issued a statement saying he appreciated the ambassador’s willingness to meet the group.
“It is vital to maintain an open channel of communication among American, Israeli and Jewish communal leaders of all political backgrounds,” he said. “While the content of today’s meeting was off the record, the fact of the meeting represents a recognition that there needs to be a broad dialogue in the pro-Israel community, even with those with whom we disagree.”