Democrats are weighing whether to attend Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress as many plan to boycott

WASHINGTON — One last time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the US Congress, nearly 60 Democrats walked out of his speech nine years ago, calling it a slap in the face to then-President Barack Obama during negotiations nuclear agreement with Iran.

According to Netanyahu’s plan will address US lawmakers on July 24 and his government currently at war with Hamas in Gazathe number of absences is likely to be much higher.

Democrats in Congress are considering whether to participate. Many are torn between their long-standing support for Israel and their anguish over the way Israel has conducted military operations in Gaza. More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in Hamas-controlled territory since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war, according to the Health Ministry. In its data, the ministry does not distinguish between civilians and veterans.

While some Democrats say they will leave out of respect for Israel, a larger and growing faction wants no part of it, creating an unusually tense atmosphere at a gathering that is usually reduced to a ceremonial, bipartisan show of support for the American ally.

“I would like him to be a statesman and do what is good for Israel. We all love Israel,” former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, California he recently said about Netanyahu on CNN. “We have to help them and not let him stand in the way for so long.”

She added: “I think it will create more of what we have seen in terms of discontent among ourselves.”

Tensions between Netanyahu and Democratic President Joe Biden are reaching the public, with Netanyahu last week accusing the Biden administration of withholding American weapons from Israel – claim he did again Sunday to his office. When the prime minister first raised the allegations, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “We really don’t know what he’s talking about. We just don’t do it.

The invitation from House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to Netanyahu came after consultations with the White House, according to a person familiar with the matter who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic. So far, no leadership meeting has been scheduled during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, this person added.

Netanyahu said in a statement that he was “very moved” by the invitation to address Congress and the chance to “present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us, the representatives of the American people and the entire world.”

Republicans first floated the idea of ​​inviting Netanyahu in March after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in the United States, delivered a speech on the Senate floor he sharply criticized the prime minister. Schumer, D-N.Y., called the Israeli leader an “obstacle to peace” and pushed for new elections in Israel even as he condemned Hamas and criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Republicans condemned the speech as an insult to Israel and its sovereignty. Johnson talked about asking Netanyahu to come to Washington, which Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York ultimately supported, albeit reluctantly. Pelosi, who opposed Netanyahu’s invitation in 2015 when she was Democratic leader, she said it was a mistake for congressional leadership to extend it again, this time.

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who attended the speech as a member of the House in 2015, said he saw no reason for Congress to “extend Netanyahu’s political lifeline.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the presence of members of both parties would be “healthy.” “I think a lot of Americans, especially the younger generation, are getting a one-sided narrative, and I think it’s important for them to hear the prime minister of Israel from his point of view,” said McCaul, D-Texas.

Interviews with more than a dozen Democrats revealed the extent of dissatisfaction with the upcoming speech, which many see as a ploy by Republicans to divide their party. Some Democrats say they will come to show their support for Israel, not Netanyahu.

New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had an “obligation” to attend the meeting because of his position.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” he added. “But I can’t control it. And I have to do my job.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who chairs the Sente Foreign Affairs Committee, has indicated he will be there. Cardin said Netanyahu was looking for “the kind of message in the speech that can strengthen support in this country for Israel’s needs,” but also lay the groundwork for peace in the region.

Other Democrats are waiting to see whether Netanyahu will still be prime minister before he is scheduled to address Congress.

There have been open signs of dissatisfaction with the way the war is being waged by Netanyahu’s government, a coalition that includes, among others, right-wing hardliners who oppose any agreement with Hamas.

Benny Gantz, former military commander and centrist politician, withdrew from Netanyahu’s war cabinet this month, citing frustration with the prime minister’s handling of the war. On Monday, Netanyahu disbanded that body. Meanwhile, a growing number of critics and protesters in Israel have supported a ceasefire proposal under which Hamas would bring home hostages taken by Hamas.

Rep. Seth Magaziner, D-R.I., said he stands with those “who hope he won’t become prime minister by the end of July. “I think he was bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians, bad for America.” But he added that he believes it is his responsibility to show up when a head of state addresses Congress, “even if it’s someone I have concerns about and disagree with.”

Rep. Virginia’s Don Beyer attended the 2015 speech and described it as “some of the most painful hours” he spent in Congress. He plans a boycott unless Netanyahu becomes a “supporter of a ceasefire.”

Much of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – lawmakers who are among the most critical of Israel’s handling of the war – is expected to leave office. Among them is Washington Republican Pramila Jayapal, the caucus chairwoman, who told The Associated Press that inviting Netanyahu was a “bad idea.”

“We should put pressure on him by withholding offensive military aid to stick to the agreement reached by the president,” she said.

Netanyahu’s visit is expected to spark significant protests, and some members of Congress are planning to hold an alternative event.

Rep. Jim Clyburn said he is in the early stages of gathering “like-minded” people to exchange ideas about a path forward for Israelis and Palestinians that includes a two-state solution. The senior South Carolina Democrat loudly criticized Netanyahu’s 2015 speech, which he and several prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus considered an insult to Obama.

“I just think that instead of just saying, ‘I’m not leaving, I’m not going to move,’ I say, ‘I’m going to stay away for a purpose,'” he said. “I’m not going to listen to his stupidity. However, we have some ideas that may prove to be the solution of the future.”

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