Netanyahu accepts invitation to address joint session of Congress

‘I’m excited for the privilege’ of making Israel’s case to the American people and the world, says the prime minister after bipartisan leadership sends formal letter

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday accepted an invitation to address a joint session of Congress.

He said that he was “excited for the privilege to present in front of the representatives of the American people and the entire world the truth about our just war against those who wish to kill us.”

The statement from the Prime Minister’s Office boasted that he would be the first world leader to address a joint session of Congress for a fourth time. He is currently tied at three with Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill.

No date has been set, but the speech is expected to take place “as soon as the next eight weeks or soon after August recess,” a source familiar with the matter told The Hill.

On Friday, US Congressional leaders from both parties sent Netanyahu the invitation, a show of wartime support for longtime ally Israel despite mounting political divisions over the war against Hamas in Gaza.

In the letter, the congressional leaders said the invitation was extended to “highlight America’s solidarity with Israel.”

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (right) and House Speaker Mike Johnson listen to remarks during a Hanukkah gathering at the Capitol in Washington, December 12, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The letter was signed by House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican.

“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.

An Israeli official confirmed Netanyahu’s receipt of the invitation to reporters.

The Hill said the invitation — first suggested by Johnson — was issued after weeks of delay caused by Schumer, who gave a speech on the Senate floor in March calling for early elections in Israel to replace Netanyahu. Schumer ultimately acquiesced, saying he was prepared to cooperate in a Netanyahu address as long as it was done in a bipartisan way.

“The horrific attacks of October 7th shocked the world and forced your nation into a fight for its very existence. We join the State of Israel in your struggle against terror, especially as Hamas continues to hold American and Israeli citizens captive and its leaders jeopardize regional stability,” the letter reads. “For this reason, on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, we would like to invite you to address a Joint Meeting of Congress.”

An official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu had been speaking in recent weeks to Republican Congressional leaders about a potential joint session address, viewing it as an opportunity to make Israel’s case on the global stage and is less concerned about some of the political fallout within the US.

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

US President Joe Biden (2nd right) speaks during a meeting with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, February 27, 2024. From left, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, of Louisiana, US Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden, and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Nearly 60 Democrats boycotted Netanyahu’s last joint session address in 2015, which was organized by Republican Congressional leaders behind the back of then-US president Barack Obama in order for the Israeli premier to lobby against the nuclear deal that Washington wound up signing with Iran later that year.

A much larger number of Democrats would likely boycott a Netanyahu speech, as the war in Gaza has become increasingly unpopular among progressives.

The war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 atrocities has also led to a rupture in Netanyahu’s relationship with US President Joe Biden, who in May threatened for the first time  to withhold weapons from Israel if it launched a massive offensive in the civilian areas of Rafah.

While Netanyahu has shored up the invite from Congress, he has not yet received one from the White House and making the trip to Washington without one would only further highlight the divides.

Even before October 7, Netanyahu had not received an invite to the White House since his return to office in late 2022, as he quickly drew Biden’s ire over his efforts to radically overhaul Israel’s judiciary and actions seen as harming the US administration’s attempt to preserve prospects for a two-state solution. Biden visited Israel shortly after the Hamas-led attack, in the first-ever trip a US president has made to the Jewish state amid a war.

Friday’s invitation notably came minutes after Biden gave a speech presenting what he said was the latest Israeli proposal for a hostage deal and ceasefire to end the war, and calling on Hamas to accept the offer.

A congressional aide told The Times of Israel that Schumer’s office coordinated with the White House on the matter.

Jacob Magid and AP contributed to this report. 

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