Congressional leaders invite Israel's Netanyahu to deliver address at the US Capitol

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [File, Standard]

Congressional leaders have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver an address the Capitol, a show of wartime support for the longtime ally despite mounting political divisions over Israel's military assault on Gaza.

The invitation from House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, along with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, has been in the works for some time. No date for the speech was set.

Leaders said the invitation was extended to “highlight America’s solidarity with Israel.”

“We invite you to share the Israeli government’s vision for defending democracy, combatting terror and establishing a just and lasting peace in the region,” they wrote.

A speech by Netanyahu would almost certainly expose election-year divisions in the U.S., where a growing number of Democrats have turned away from the right-wing prime minister, while Republicans have embraced him.

Johnson first suggested inviting the Israeli leader, saying it would be “a great honor of mine” to invite him. That came soon after Schumer, who is the highest ranking Jewish elected official in the U.S., had delivered a stinging rebuke of Netanyahu. Schumer said in the speech that Netanyahu had “lost his way" amid the Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza.

Even so, Schumer had said he would join in the invitation because “our relationship with Israel is ironclad and transcends any one prime minister or president.”

The Israel-Hamas war, now in its seventh month after the October 7 terror attack by the Palestinian militant group, has caused widespread concerns in the U.S. and abroad over Israel's conduct and the extensive civilian death toll.

As Israel pushes into Rafah in Gaza, the International Criminal Court has accused Netanyahu and his defense minister, along with three Hamas leaders, of war crimes — a largely symbolic act but one that further isolates the Israeli leader.

President Joe Biden in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas lambasted the ICC’s case against Netanyahu, but he has nevertheless grown critical of Israel’s war plans and has pressed for assurances of humanitarian aid.

On Friday, Biden encouraged a three-phase deal proposed by Israel to Hamas militants that he says would lead to the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza and could end the war. He urged Israelis and Hamas to come to an agreement to release the remaining hostages for an extended cease-fire, arguing that Hamas is “no longer capable” of carrying out another large-scale attack on Israel as it did in October.

Biden called the proposal “a road map to an enduring cease-fire and the release of all hostages.”

It is unclear if Biden and Netanyahu would meet in Washington.

Spain, Norway and Ireland recently recognized a Palestinian state, a move that was condemned by Israel. Slovenia's government also endorsed a motion to recognize a Palestinian state and asked the parliament to do the same.

Typically, a high-profile congressional invitation is issued jointly and in consultation with the White House. But in 2015, Netanyahu was invited to address Congress in a rebuff to then-President Barack Obama by a previous Republican speaker during disputes over Iran.

On Capitol Hill, the debates over the Israel-Hamas war have been pitched, heated and divisive, amplified during the college campus protests this spring, showing how the once ironclad support for Israel has weakened and splintered.

Republicans, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, have been eager to display their support for Netanyahu and expose the Democratic divisions over Israel.

More recently, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, became the highest ranking Republican elected official from the U.S. to deliver a speech before the Israeli parliament.