Risking PR Disaster, Netanyahu To Address Congress On July 24

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Jun 07, 2024 - 11:45 AM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, July 24th. Though intended to reinforce US support of Israel and its ongoing war in Gaza, the appearance of the polarizing prime minister amid the initial run-up to the 2024 American general election could well backfire

Many legislators will boycott the appearance, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who already promised not to show up. This won't be the first controversial joint address by Netanyahu: In 2015, he used a speech to undermine President Obama's negotiation of an agreement with Iran that severely limited its nuclear energy program. Fifty-eight Democrats boycotted the speech.  

A political lightning rod, Netanyahu is certain to inspire large protests in Washington, and perhaps other cities, coinciding with his appearance. There may well be outbursts inside the House chamber too. A senior House Democrat tells Axios that "a number [of Democrats] are going and disrupting" the speech

Netanyahu's address will come between the Republican and Democratic national conventions, and increased debate on the way Israel is conducting its US-financed, US-equipped war could well be a huge net negative for Netanyahu and his ruling coalition. 

A huge pro-Palestinian protest in Washington DC in November 2023 (Celal Gunes/ Anadolu / Getty Images via TruthOut)

 Underscoring the challenge Netanyahu faces in shoring up Israel's sagging support in the United States, the announcement of the date of his speech came the same day as the latest gruesome, mass-civilian-casualty incident in Gaza. At least 33 were killed at a shelter for displaced Palestinians, reports AP, including nine children and three women. An Israeli military spokesman said the dead included nine Hamas militants who had been using the facility as a base. The carnage came via Israel's delivery of an American-supplied GBU-39 small-diameter bomb -- as evidenced by bomb remnants at the site.    

In his own statement, Netanyahu said, "I am very moved to have the privilege of representing Israel before both Houses of Congress, and to present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us, to the representatives of the American people and the entire world.” It should be noted that Netanyahu has a decidedly spotty record when it comes to "presenting the truth" to Congress

In a pointed illustration of the dicey politics surrounding Netanyahu's appearance, Thursday's confirmation of the date came in a statement issued only by two Republicans -- House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who wrote: 

“The bipartisan, bicameral meeting symbolizes the US 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.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose participation in a joint invitation was a prerequisite to Netanyahu's appearance, was conspicuously absent from the statement. In March, Schumer touched off a diplomatic firestorm when he gave a speech from the Senate floor in which he said Netanyahu had "lost his way" and was making Israel a worldwide "pariah." Most provocatively, Schumer called for a new election.

In his own separate Thursday statement, Schumer said “I have clear and profound disagreements with the prime minister, which I have voiced both privately and publicly and will continue to do so. But because America’s relationship with Israel is ironclad and transcends one person or prime minister, I joined the request for him to speak.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters marched in Washington last fall (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty via The Atlantic)

Schumer's careful justification of his role in giving Netanyahu the most prominent stage in American politics was no doubt intended for the increasingly large swath of American Democrats who are fiercely opposed to Israel's conduct of the Gaza war and who have a particularly dim view of Netanyahu and his government, which is widely viewed as Israel's most ultranationalist and religious yet.   

A May Economist/YouGov poll found that, among Democrats, just 15% sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians. Forty-one percent said their sympathies were "about equal," with 26% favoring the Palestinians over Israel.  

By the time July 24th comes around, Israel may be using US-supplied weapons in a second major war. Though Biden is discouraging it, Israel's war cabinet is considering the launch of a full-scale war against Lebanese political-militia group Hezbollah.