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Netanyahu accepts Congress‘ invitation to speak despite blowback

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday accepted an invitation from congressional leaders to address a joint session, a decision that has sparked tension within the Democratic Party over Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza.

In a post to X, formerly known as Twitter, Netanyahu wrote that he was looking forward to the opportunity to “present the truth” to Congress about the “just war” that Israel has been waging in Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, when 1,200 Israelis were killed and 240 others were taken hostage. In the months following Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, at least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities, while millions of others have fled from their homes.

“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,” Netanyahu wrote.

Tensions have been mounting in recent weeks after Speaker Mike Johnson announced his plan to invite Netanyahu to address Congress. The Democratic Party has splintered over U.S. support for Israel in its ongoing war in Gaza, particularly after recent strikes in a designated safe zone for Palestinians in the southern city of Rafah that reportedly killed at least 45 people.

Progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been outspoken in his disapproval of U.S. military support for Israel’s war, denounced the invitation.

“Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal. He should not be invited to address a joint meeting of Congress. I certainly will not attend,” Sanders wrote in a post to X.

Sanders also referenced the International Criminal Court’s seeking arrest warrants for both Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar for alleged war crimes committed on both sides.

“The ICC is seeking warrants for the arrest of Netanyahu and Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas,” Sanders wrote. “The ICC is right. Both of these people are engaged in clear and outrageous violations of international law.”

Other lawmakers, including Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) have signaled that they would likely skip Netanyahu’s address.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has called for Netanyahu’s resignation, responded with a decisive “no” last month when asked if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer should sign onto Speaker Mike Johnson’s invitation letter to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s upcoming address marks the fourth time the leader will address a joint session of Congress, making him the first head of state to do so.

Nearly 60 Democrats boycotted Netanyahu’s last address in 2015, orchestrated by Republicans behind then-President Barack Obama’s back in an attempt to lobby against his signing onto the Iran nuclear deal.