Congressional leaders invite Netanyahu to address US legislators

Address by Israeli Prime Minister considered divisive by some Democrats

Many Democrats have voiced opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Congress.. AFP
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A bipartisan group of US politicians on Friday invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress, a move likely to infuriate those angry over his handling of the war and President Joe Biden's staunch support for Israel.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all signed the invitation to Mr Netanyahu, expressing support for Israel.

“We join the state of Israel in your struggle against terror, especially as Hamas continues to hold American and Israel hostages citizens captive and its leaders threaten regional stability,” they said.

“For this reason … we would like to invite you to address a joint meeting of Congress.”

The invitation came hours after Mr Biden announced that Israel had offered a new ceasefire proposal that would lead to an end to the war in Gaza, which, under Mr Netanyahu's leadership, has killed more than 36,200 Palestinians, according to local officials.

The International Criminal Court's lead prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant for Mr Netanyahu and his Defence Minister for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecutor is also seeking warrants for three Hamas leaders.

The letter does not specify a date for Mr Netanyahu's visit, though Mr Johnson told US media this week he expects the address to occur sometime before Congress's August recess.

Mr Johnson had long hinted that the invitation would be coming; Congress is widely pro-Israel though there have been a growing number of Democrats opposed to the US ally's war in Gaza.

Many Democrats, including former House speaker Nancy Pelosi, voiced opposition to Mr Netanyahu's visit to Congress.

Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told Axios this month that the Israeli leader's speech “would be an enormously controversial, divisive thing”.

Mr Netanyahu has stirred controversy in Congress on previous visits.

In 2015, he addressed the body, standing in opposition to then-president Barack Obama's drive to establish a nuclear deal with Iran.

The address was boycotted by many in Mr Obama's Democratic Party and was seen as a snub to the administration, with critics saying it politicised the US-Israel relationship.

More recently, he was accused of politicising the US-Israel alliance when he addressed Senate Republicans virtually at a March lunch meeting.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided he wants to politicise his meetings,” Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren told The National at the time outside the closed-door meeting.

“The United States should follow through on its policies to support the nation of Israel, but that does not mean giving a big lift to Netanyahu.”

Updated: June 02, 2024, 9:22 PM