Updated Mar 21, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Netanyahu would face widespread boycott on Capitol Hill

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a black button-down shirt and black yarmulke.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to face a sprawling boycott from congressional progressives should he accept a planned invitation to address Congress.

Why it matters: It's a sign of how strained relations between some Democrats and Israel have become since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war.

What we're hearing: "I'm not going," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), telling Axios there is "nothing Netanyahu can tell me that can help my district at all" and that his constituents are "pissed" at the Israeli war effort.

  • Asked if he will attend, Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) told Axios "no" because Netanyahu "is a bad person."
  • Rep. Chuy García (D-Ill.) said he would "probably not" attend because Netanyahu's right-wing coalition is "the most extreme government in the country's history" and because of Israel's "conduct during the war."
  • "It sounds like something I'm unlikely to change up my schedule to get to," said Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas), saying it will be "important symbolically for people to show and express our disagreement with him."

Zoom in: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a progressive "Squad" member and the only Palestinian American in Congress, went further, saying Netanyahu "shouldn't come to Congress, he should be sent to the Hague."

  • "He has no business coming to the United States of America," she said.

State of play: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Thursday morning he plans to invite Netanyahu to address Congress.

  • Several House Republicans suggested the idea on Wednesday as a way to hit back at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for his harsh criticism of Netanyahu.
  • Schumer signaled he is willing to give his consent for an address to a joint session to Congress, saying in a statement: "I will always welcome the opportunity for the Prime Minister of Israel to speak to Congress in a bipartisan way."
  • Some Democrats see the speech as blatantly political: Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said "hell no" he won't attend what he called a "glorified Republican Conference meeting."
  • The Israeli prime minister's office did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

The intrigue: Even lawmakers who attended Netanyahu's controversial 2015 address to Congress or Israeli President Isaac Herzog's speech last July — which was subject to a boycott by the progressive "Squad" — said they wouldn't go this time.

  • Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said he would "probably not" attend because "the last one was one of the most painful hours of my life."
  • Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who attended the Herzog speech, said Netanyahu is "a different situation ... given his policies that have been in defiance of the president and disastrous."

Between the lines: Even some Jewish progressives are not committed to hearing Netanyahu speak.

  • Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) said she is not sure whether she would attend, telling Axios she wants to "think carefully about what is the strongest way to send a message."
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) declined to entertain the question while pointing to civilian deaths in Gaza, telling Axios: "Is that what your worry is, whether I will attend or not?"
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) didn't say whether she would attend, but noted she skipped Netanyahu's 2015 speech.

Yes, but: The speech would still likely have a sizable Democratic showing.

  • Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the chair of the roughly 100-member, center-left New Democrat Coalition, told Axios, "I would expect most New Dems would attend."
  • "People are disappointed by the way the war is being prosecuted and that the civilian casualties are so high, but our support for the people of Israel and the existence of Israel has not diminished," she said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

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