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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Journeys to the Jewish State: A History of U.S. Presidential Visits to Israel

On May 22, President Donald Trump will become the sixth sitting U.S. president to travel to Israel—marking the eleventh such trip overall. Below is a brief history of presidential visits to the Jewish state, each of which have served to reaffirm the robust U.S.-Israel relationship and boost bilateral ties between the two allies.

President Richard Nixon: 1969-1974

In June 1974, President Nixon became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Israel. During a welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport, President Nixon said: “It is for me, as I am sure all of you can imagine, a very great moment to be standing here, as the President [of Israel] has indicated, as the first American President to be here in Israel and, particularly so, because our two countries have been joined together in friendship from the time of Israel's birth as a nation in our modern times.”

In response, Israeli President Ephraim Katzir said: “The United States has stood by the side of Israel from the day of her rebirth as a sovereign state. Throughout the years, the great American people have demonstrated their friendship. In hours of trial, we have enjoyed your sympathy and support just as we always have benefited from your nation's generosity in helping us to advance our country and to bring a better life to our people.”

Joined by Secretary of State of State Henry Kissinger, the pair met with senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem including the President Katzir and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. At the conclusion of the visit, President Nixon announced the United States’ eagerness to complete a long-term aid package to Israel.

President Jimmy Carter: 1977-1981

President Carter arrived in Israel in March 1979 following a three-day visit to Egypt. The primary purpose of the trip was to finalize the terms of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, which would become the cornerstone of peace in the Middle East.

The president addressed the Knesset, reaffirming Israel’s commitment to peace. “As the elected leader and the representative of the people of the United States of America, I am indeed honored and pleased to set my foot on the soil of the free nation of Israel,” said Carter. “I come to you as a fellow worker in the cause of peace. I know how much this cause means to the people of this land.”

He continued: “As Prime Minister Begin has said many times, Israel truly wants peace. Of that there can be no doubt. And I feel absolutely certain, after my experience of the past three days, that the people of Egypt fully share that desire for peace…We have come a great distance together—perhaps a greater distance than many would have dreamed of.”

President Bill Clinton: 1993-2001

President Clinton visited the Jewish state four times while in office: October 1994, November 1995, March 1996 and December 1998.

During his first state visit, he met with several senior Israeli officials and addressed the Knesset, praising Israel for seeking a peace treaty with Jordan.

“Yesterday Israel took a great stride toward fulfilling the ancient dream of the Jewish people, the patriarchs' dream of a strong and plentiful people living freely in their own land, enjoying the fruits of peace with their neighbors. Nearly 17 years after President Sadat came to this Chamber to seek peace and Prime Minister Begin reached out in reconciliation, and just over a year after Israel and the PLO declared a pathway to peace on the South Lawn of the White House, Israel and Jordan have now written a new chapter,” said the president.

Following the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin—a personal friend of President Clinton—the president joined leaders from all around the world to attend Rabin’s funeral at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

“Today, my fellow citizens of the world, I ask all of you to take a good, hard look at this picture,” said President Clinton in his eulogy for Rabin. “Look at the leaders from all over the Middle East and around the world who have journeyed here today for Yitzhak Rabin, and for peace. Though we no longer hear his deep and booming voice, it is he who has brought us together again here, in word and deed, for peace.”

His third visit came on the heels of a Hamas bombing attack on two buses in Jerusalem that claimed 45 victims. The president met with high-ranking Israeli officials in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to advance U.S.-Israel bilateral cooperation against terrorism, pledging that the “United States stands more strongly than ever shoulder-to shoulder with Israel.”

“In this time you are not alone,” said President Clinton. “I have flown here with the Prime Minister, as he said, from Sharm al-Sheikh, from a summit of peacemakers that is unprecedented in the history of the Middle East. At the urging of many who were once Israel's sworn enemies—Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians—29 leaders came together, 13 of them from Arab countries. There were Israel neighbors, there were other Arab nations, nations from Europe, North America, and Asia. All have long labored for peace. All are now united against the terror aimed at Israel.”

In his final visit, the president met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Masada, and in a speech to the Israeli people he reaffirmed America’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security: “The United States will always stand with Israel, always remember that only a strong Israel can make peace. That is why we were, after all, your partners in security before we were partners for peace. Our commitment to your security is ironclad. It will not ever change.”

President George W. Bush: 2001-2009

In 2008, President Bush traveled to Israel in both January and May.

In his first visit, he met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres and underscored the shared values that bind the United States and Israel.

“The United States and Israel are strong allies. The source of that strength is a shared belief in the power of human freedom. Our people have built two great democracies under difficult circumstances. We built free economies to unleash the potential of our people. And the alliance between our two nations helps guarantee Israel's security as a Jewish state,” said President Bush upon arriving in Jerusalem. 

President Bush returned in May to commemorate Israel’s 60th anniversary.

“We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, founded on the ‘natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.’ What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David—a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael,” said the president in an address to the Knesset.

“Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world.”

President Barack Obama: 2009-2017

In his eight years in office, President Obama made two visits to the Jewish state.

In March 2013, he traveled to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres.

In an address from Jerusalem to the Israeli people, the president spoke to Israel’s embodiment of both the history and future of the Jewish people: “I have borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I have seen Israel’s shining future in your scientists and entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated…I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own. And over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins.”

During his trip, he also emphasized the “unbreakable bond” shared between the United States and Israel. At a press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president stated that the United States has a “solemn obligation” to safeguard Israel’s “non-negotiable” security and reiterated his support for Iron Dome missile defense funding.

“We have built a friendship that advances our shared interests. Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. Together, we share a focus on advancing economic growth around the globe, and strengthening the middle class within our countries. Together, we share a stake in the success of democracy,” said President Obama. 

On Sept. 30, 2016, President Obama traveled to Jerusalem to attend the state funeral of former President Peres, who passed away at the age of 93.

At Peres’ memorial service, the president said, “Shimon Peres reminds us that the State of Israel, like the United States of America, was not built by cynics. We exist because people before us refused to be constrained by the past or the difficulties of the present. And Shimon Peres was never cynical. It is that faith, that optimism, that belief—even when all the evidence is to the contrary—that tomorrow can be better, that makes us not just honor Shimon Peres, but love him.”