July 20, 2024

Proposal to give the floor to the Israeli prime minister sparked controversy when it was first floated in May

US congressional leaders have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, in a show of support for West Jerusalem and despite the political divide over Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

A letter published by House Speaker Mike Johnson on Friday said the invitation had been extended to “highlight America’s solidarity with Israel.” The date for the speech has not been specified.

The invitation – which was also signed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, along with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries – has reportedly been in the works for some time.

Netanyahu’s planned visit exposed divisions among US lawmakers, particularly within the Democratic caucus, when the idea was put forward in May. Some argue for maintaining a strong Jewish state in the region, while others are critical of Israel’s human rights record.

Schumer added his signature after weeks of delay, despite having strongly criticized Netanyahu in March for his handling of the Israel-Hamas war. He called on Netanyahu to hold new elections, as the current government has been “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

The Israel-Hamas war, now in its seventh month after the October 7 surprise attack by the Palestinian militant group, has caused concerns in the US and abroad over Netanyahu’s military strategy. The Gaza health authorities claim the operation has killed more than 36,000 in the Palestinian enclave. In May, the International Criminal Court accused Netanyahu and his defense minister, along with three Hamas leaders, of war crimes.

In May, a number of Schumer’s fellow Democrats reportedly pushed for him not to sign the letter when the idea was suggested. House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jim Himes said Netanyahu “should be focused on freeing hostages, not on charming legislators.”READ MORE: Israel has offered new Gaza ceasefire plan – Biden

Congressman Dan Kildee told Axios that a speech by the Israeli prime minister would “complicate an already complicated situation,” while former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi simply said no to the idea.

Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky called Netanyahu a “menace,” telling The Hill that “should he come for any reason, in any venue, I am not going to be there.”

US President Joe Biden has said he supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, but has grown critical of the country’s war conduct. On Friday, Biden presented a new ceasefire plan that he says would lead to the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza and could end the hostilities.

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