Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on July 24

Washington — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint meeting of Congress on July 24, Republican congressional leaders announced Thursday night.

 In a statement, House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the “bipartisan, bicameral meeting symbolizes the U.S. and Israel’s enduring relationship and will offer Prime Minister Netanyahu the opportunity to share the Israeli government’s vision for defending their democracy, combatting terror, and establishing just and lasting peace in the region.”

The top four leaders of the House and Senate had formally invited Netanyahu last week “to share the Israeli government’s vision for defending democracy, combatting terror, and establishing a just and lasting peace in the region.”

There had been a brief confusion about the date on Monday, when Punchbowl News reported that the address would happen June 13. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, later said the proposed date conflicted with a Jewish holiday. The Jewish holiday Shavuot ends on June 13. 

“I would have known better than to extend an invitation on a Jewish holiday to the prime minister of the state of Israel,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday. 

Jeffries and Johnson signed onto the invite along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. 

“I have clear and profound disagreements with the Prime Minister, which I have voiced both privately and publicly and will continue to do so,” Schumer said in a statement Thursday after the address was officially announced. “But because America’s relationship with Israel is ironclad and transcends one person or prime minister I joined the request for him to speak.”

Netanyahu said on Saturday that he was looking forward to presenting “the truth about our just war” against Hamas in Gaza since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, in which hundreds of Israelis were killed and taken hostage. 

Since then, more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health, and many are facing famine, according to the U.N.

The decision to invite Netanyahu comes amid deep political divides over the war across the U.S. 

Republicans have been unequivocal in their backing of Netanyahu, while Democrats have splintered over providing more support to the longtime U.S. ally. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, called Netanyahu a “war criminal,” and said he would boycott the speech. Sanders has argued that Israel had the right to defend itself, but said it has gone too far in going “to war against the entire Palestinian people.” 

“I believe it is a very sad day for our country that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited by leaders from both political parties to address a joint session of the United States Congress,” Sanders said on the Senate floor on Monday. 

Sanders showed photographs taken by news agencies in Gaza of severely malnourished children as he accused Israel of violating international law. 

“I would say to Speaker Johnson that when you attend your fundraising dinners with your billionaire friends, and you eat your fine steaks and your lobsters and your other wonderful food, please remember these pictures from Gaza,” he said. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, said Monday it is “unproductive” for Netanyahu to address Congress. 

“He shouldn’t be here,” she said, adding that she was debating whether or not to attend. 

Other Democrats have also indicated they plan to skip the address. 

Johnson said Tuesday “no Republicans will skip it — I guarantee that — at least not intentionally.” 

Meanwhile, House Republicans moved ahead with legislation to sanction the International Criminal Court, which is seeking an arrest warrant for Netanyahu, other Israeli officials and Hamas leaders, further exposing Democratic divisions. The White House opposed the proposed sanctions, though it has been critical of the ICC’s decision. 

Netanyahu last addressed a joint meeting of Congress in 2015 as he sought to convince lawmakers to sink negotiations between the Obama administration and Iran over the regime’s nuclear program. 

— Margaret Brennan, Nikole Killion, Jaala Brown and Ellis Kim contributed to this report. 

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