WASHINGTON: A proposal to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of the US Congress has raised hackles among Democrats, with some key Democratic leaders urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to abstain from endorsing the invitation.

Democrats hold the Senate majority while Republicans dominate the House of Representatives.

Most liberal Democrats and progressives have already announced they will boycott the session if it’s held. This further complicates the situation for the Biden administration and other Democratic leaders who are trying to balance their support for Israel with criticism of Netanyahu’s military tactics, which have led to over 35,000 civilian deaths in Gaza.

House Intelligence Committee member Jim Himes stated, “Netanyahu should be focused on freeing hostages, not on charming legislators.” Rep. Dan Kildee, a member of Democratic leadership, told Axios, “I don’t think it’s a good time … let’s not complicate an already complicated situation.”

Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi simply said “no” to the idea. House Speaker Mike Johnson, however, has cornered Schumer by turning his invitation to Netanyahu into a public debate so close to the November 2024 elections. He knows that refusing to endorse the invitation will alienate pro-Israeli voters, while endorsing it will annoy liberal and progressive Democrats.

Republicans also know that it will be difficult for Schumer to boycott the session if Netanyahu speaks. Schumer is the first Jewish Senate Majority Leader in American history.

Two-time presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who earlier this week said the ICC would be “right” to seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu, responded with a resounding “no” when asked if Schumer should join the invitation.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2024

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