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This week in Jewish history | United States President Richard Nixon becomes first American President to visit Israel 

16 Jun 2021

President Nixon toasts President Katzir of Israel and former Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament Building-June 16, 1974. (c) The Richard Nixon Foundation

On 16 June 1974, as part of a larger presidential itinerary to the Middle East, Richard Nixon became the first American President to visit Israel. His 24-hour visit with First lady Pat and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came just over six months after the Yom Kippur War, and its aim was to consolidate American influence in the region and solidify the Yom Kippur War ceasefire.  

Upon his arrival in Israel, Nixon said in a 15-minute ceremony at Ben-Gurion airport, “I can only say that the friendship that we have for this nation, the respect and the admiration we have for the people of this nation, their courage, their tenacity, their firmness in the face of very great odds, is one that makes us proud to stand with Israel, as we have in the past in times of trouble.” 

Following a joint meeting between newly sworn in Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and ​ Nixon, the two leaders issued a readout , which highlighted the need for “a just and lasting peace which will provide security for all States in the area and the need to build a structure of peace in the world.” 

At a state dinner, President Nixon, with the permission of then-Israeli President Ephraim Katzir, praised former Prime Minister Golda Meir, saying, “And I can say to this audience here gathered in the Knesset in Israel that no leader I have met, no president, no king, no prime minister, or any other leader has demonstrated in the meetings that I have had with that leader greater courage, greater intelligence, and greater stamina, greater determination, and greater dedication to her country than Prime Minister Meir.” She, in return, thanked Nixon, calling him a great president.

In his remarks, President Katzir said, “Peace, Mr. President, was and remains our cherished goal. We are not a martial people. Our legendary heroes are prophets and scholars. We are the authors of mankind’s oldest pacific tradition. ‘Make peace and pursue it,’ declared the psalmist. I can, therefore, assure you, on behalf of the government and the people of Israel, that we are eager to pursue the path of dialogue and negotiations.” 

Upon the conclusion of President Nixon's visit, a joint statement was issued stressing the unique relationship between the two countries. 

While not every succeeding American president has made a trip to Israel, Nixon’s landmark visit paved the way for future presidential visits to Israel by Presidents Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump. The visits symbolize the unique relationship, the common heritage and the close and historic ties that have long existed between the two democratic nations.