Israel’s Netanyahu will soon address U.S. Congress, Johnson says By Reuters

By Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would soon address a joint meeting of Congress amid heightened tensions with President Joe Biden over the Israeli leader’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Delivering a keynote speech at the Israeli embassy’s annual Independence Day reception, Johnson, the top congressional Republican and a critic of the Democratic president’s Israel policy, said it would be “a strong show of support for the Israeli government in their time of greatest need.”

Such a speech is sure to further anger some progressive Democrats critical of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and Biden’s support for it. Netanyahu has closely aligned himself with Republicans.

The diplomatic gathering in Washington comes amid strains between Biden and Netanyahu over a U.S. push for Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in the war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The embassy gave equal billing to Democratic U.S. Representative Pete Aguilar, who shared the high-profile platform with Johnson at a more subdued event under the shadow of the Gaza war. “As Americans, we reaffirm our commitment to Israel’s sovereignty,” he said.

Speaking first, Johnson said to applause: “Tonight I’m happy to announce … we will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress.”

Successive U.S. administration have usually sent a high-level official to the Independence Day receptions, reflecting Israel’s status as Washington’s top Middle East ally.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who in recent months has called the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian catastrophe” and has urged a ceasefire, delivered last year’s keynote, mostly extolling U.S. backing for Israel.

An Israeli official said this year the embassy wanted to honor lawmakers in a bipartisan way with speaking roles in appreciation for congressional approval of billions of dollars in new U.S. military aid to Israel.

The reception took place on the same night as a White House state dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto, which the Israeli official said created a scheduling conflict for administration cabinet members.

Several less senior Biden aides were in attendance, including Derek Chollet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s counselor.


Johnson and Aguilar both condemned the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s decision this week to seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense chief, Yoav Gallant. The prosecutor also asked for warrants to capture Hamas leaders responsible for the deadly Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Israel, which triggered the Gaza war.

Johnson took a veiled swipe at Biden, saying “some leaders” have sought to withhold “vital weapons” from Israel. Biden has paused one shipment of bombs and warned he could delay others if Netanyahu carries out an all-out ground offensive in the refugee-packed city of Rafah in southern Gaza. But the flow of weapons has mostly continued.

Security was tight around the National Building Museum in downtown Washington. One small group of pro-Palestinian protesters could be heard playing a loud recording accusing Israel of killing innocent civilians.

On Tuesday, Johnson said he was close to inviting Netanyahu, a right-wing leader who had warm relations with former President Donald Trump.

Johnson, a Trump ally, had issued Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer an ultimatum to sign a letter inviting Netanyahu to address a joint meeting or else he would have him only speak to the House of Representatives.

Schumer had signaled he was open to Congress hosting Netanyahu, despite declaring in March that the Israeli leader had “lost his way” and calling for new elections in Israel.

Johnson did not offer a date for Netanyahu’s speech. Addresses to Congress are a rare honor generally reserved for the closest U.S. allies.

Netanyahu has already given such speeches three times, most recently in 2015. That year, Republican leaders invited him without consulting Democratic then-President Barack Obama, as Netanyahu joined them in an unsuccessful bid to derail Obama’s international nuclear deal with Iran.

Johnson, struggling to keep his fractious Republican House majority intact, has been a prominent voice in the U.S. political divide over Israeli policy. Politicization of the issue has intensified ahead of the November election in which Biden is running against Trump.

In contrast to past years’ gala celebrations, this year’s reception, marking the 76th anniversary of Israel’s founding, was billed as a “solidarity event.”

Israel is fighting to wipe out Hamas militants who attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Palestinian authorities say more than 35,000 people have been killed during Israel’s campaign in Gaza, many of them women and children.

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