Netanyahu may be invited to address US Congress

Congressional leaders Mike Johnson and Chuck Schumer express interest in move, despite political infighting over Washington's support for Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last addressed a joint session of Congress in 2015. Reuters
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US congressional leaders said they would be open to inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a special session of Congress in Washington.

“I would love to have him come in and address a joint session of Congress,” House Speaker Mike Johnson told CNBC. “We’ll certainly extend that invitation.”

Such an invitation would need the approval of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat who has criticised Mr Netanyahu's leadership and called for elections in Israel amid the war in Gaza.

But Mr Schumer suggested he would be open to Mr Netanyahu addressing Congress. “Israel has no stronger ally than the United States and our relationship transcends any one president or any one prime minister,” Mr Schumer said in a statement.

“I will always welcome the opportunity for the Prime Minister of Israel to speak to Congress in a bipartisan way.”

But a representative for Mr Schumer told CNN on Thursday that Mr Johnson had not yet approached the Senate leader about inviting Mr Netanyahu to the Capitol.

Without Mr Schumer's approval, the Israeli leader would only be allowed to address the House of Representatives. “If we just have the House, that’s fine, too,” Mr Johnson told CNBC.

Mr Netanyahu addressed Senate Republicans in a private meeting by video on Wednesday. Democrats criticised the move, with senator Elizabeth Warren telling The National that Mr Netanyahu was “politicising his meetings”.

Mr Schumer turned down an opportunity for Mr Netanyahu to speak to Senate Democrats. During his unusual public rebuke last week, Mr Schumer said the Israeli leader had “lost his way”.

“I also believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take the precedence over the best interests of Israel,” he said.

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Many Israelis hold Mr Netanyahu responsible for failing to prevent the Hamas attacks on October 7, while anger had been rising already over his government's planned reforms to the judicial system.

“As a lifelong supporter of Israel, it has become clear to me: the Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7,” Mr Schumer said in his speech.

Despite myriad political rows over most issues, support for Israel is strong on both sides of the aisle in Congress, although fractures have grown over the high Palestinian civilian death toll in Gaza.

More than 31,900 people have been killed in Israel's military operations in Gaza, the enclave's health ministry said. The Hamas attack on October 7 killed about 1,200 Israelis.

Some members of Congress, particularly progressive Democrats, told Axios they would boycott Mr Netanyahu's speech if he accepted the expected invitation. Mr Netanyahu last addressed a joint session of Congress in 2015. More than 50 members of Congress refused to show up for that speech.

Updated: March 22, 2024, 5:13 AM