Momentum builds to boycott Netanyahu’s US congressional visit

As Netanyahu’s approval continues to drop, he is planning to deliver an address to US Congress. [Getty]

US Senator Elizabeth Warren joins a growing number of mainly Democratic US Congress members boycotting or speaking out against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s planned visit next month on 24 July.

Explaining her decision not to attend Netanyahu’s speech at the US Congress, Warren said that Netanyahu “has created a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and that “he does not support US policy for a two-state solution”. 

Speaking with CNN earlier this month, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the decision by current Speaker Mike Johnson to invite Netanyahu to speak as “wrong” and she feels “very sad that he has been invited.” She said his visit will only fuel domestic tensions over Israel’s war in Gaza. Pelosi led a 2015 boycott of Netanyahu’s visit to Congress during Barack Obama’s administration. 

When the visit was announced in March, it was initially the left wing of the party that said they would be boycotting the speech. In recent weeks, however, an increasing number of establishment Democrats have announced their plans to skip the Israeli prime minister’s speech.

Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, former House Majority Whip, widely credited for uniting the Democratic Party behind Joe Biden before the 2020 Super Tuesday presidential primary election, has also said he will not attend Netanyahu’s speech.

“When it comes to that joint session, I do not plan to attend it,” Clyburn said on NewsNation’s The Hill Sunday show. “Because I’m going to treat him the same way he treated Barack Obama, but I am going to participate with a group of others in an alternative session to his joint session to see what now we can get some attention to what makes sense.”

At this point, Democratic lawmakers who have decided to boycott Netanyahu are now discussing alternative events that they can organise and attend instead of his speech. One suggestion, according to a report by Axios, is to hold a vigil for the approximately 150 Israelis who remain in Hamas custody, following the group’s 7 October surprise attack, a situation some believe Netanyahu is exploiting to prolong the war on Gaza.

Since 7 October, continuous Israeli airstrikes have killed around 38,000 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and more than 90,000 have been wounded. The majority of the besieged enclave’s population have been displaced from the destruction. Malnutrition and hunger have become widespread. Multiple human rights groups have described Israel’s actions as genocide.

The war has not only sunk Netanyahu‘s approval internationally, but also domestically, with growing protests against the prime minister by Israelis, including those living in the US. 

In addition to alternative events organised being suggested by members of Congress, large-scale public demonstrations are expected on the day of the speech.

The upcoming speech will mark the fourth time the Israeli prime minister delivers an address before a joint session of Congress, with the others taking place in 1996, 2011 and 2015. In response to his last visit, in which former Republican Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu without informing then-president Obama, more than 50 Democrats skipped the speech.

This time, with Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza, more Democratic lawmakers are expected to boycott Netanyahu‘s speech, and some are expected to attend and disrupt it. So far, Republicans are unified in welcoming the Israeli leader to the Capitol.

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