Inviting Netanyahu to Congress Is Like “a Bad Horror Movie”

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U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez, the Illinois Democrat who has emerged as one of Capitol Hill’s most persistent advocates for international human rights,  responded to the decision by House and Senate leaders to invite Benjamin Netanyahu to address the legislative branch on the United States government with an observation that summed up the latest abandonment of conscience by top Republicans and Democrats who have failed to hold the Israeli prime minister to account for an assault on Gaza that has now killed almost 37,000 Palestinian men, women and children.
“A war criminal addressing a joint session of Congress on Thursday the 13th sounds like the twisted plotline of a bad horror movie.“A war criminal addressing a joint session of Congress on Thursday the 13th sounds like the twisted plotline of a bad horror movie,” said Ramirez, after it was announced Monday that Netanyahu had accepted the invitation by House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to address the joint session.
Netanyahu, a scandal-plagued political pariah, whose collective punishment of Gazan civilians following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israeli kibbutzim and a music festival has indpired protests in Israel and around the world, now faces the prospect criminal prosecution for his actions. International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan signaled on May 20 that he would seek an arrest warrant for Netanyahu on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity — as part of a broader prosecution that targets Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders: Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.
Instead of responding with respect for international law, and the vital work of the ICC when it comes to global human rights issues, most U.S. officials, including President Biden, attacked the court. Republicans in Congress moved to place sanctions on the ICC, with House Speaker Johnson declaring, “The ICC has to be punished for this action.” On Tuesday, the House approved that punishment — with a bipartisan majority of 247 in favor and 155 opposed — which would revoke U.S. visas for officials associated with the international court and block the entry of ICC lawyers and others into the U.S.
In a parallel rejection of the ICC’s legitimacy and authority, which the U.S. has never formally embraced, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Congress issued the invitation to Netanyahu.
Responsible members of the House and Senate now must deal with the shameful circumstance that will unfold when the prime minister arrives in Washington. Do they want to engage in a symbolic protest of Netanyahu’s appearance? Do they want to boycott it? What specific objections do they want to raise at a time when the Israeli airstrikes that have killed displaced persons in the Gaza city of Rafah have led key U.S. allies, such as French President Emmanuel Macron to declare that,These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians,” and to call for “full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire.”
One of the most outspoken critics of Netanyahu and U.S. policies regarding Palestine, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, has argued that Netanyahu should be pressured to sit down with members of Congress and face frank questions about his actions. “A number of us have great concerns about how you’ve conducted the collective punishment of millions and possible war crimes,” said Pocan, in a social media post directed at the prime minister. “Also, I hear there may be an arrest warrant to deal with,” wrote Pocan, who added, “See you soon?”
Netanyahu did not respond and, in all likelihood, he will be shielded by House and Senate leaders from anything akin to accountability — though there is the prospect that some sort of protest could occur within the chamber. There is also the likelihood that protests and press conferences condemning Netanyahu’s June 13 appearance will take place outside the Capitol, and that some members might embrace opportunities to express pointed objections to the invite and to Netanyahu’s policies.
When the Israeli prime minister was invited by Republicans to address a joint session of Congress in 2015, at a time of heightened tensions between the Israeli government and the administration of former President Barack Obama over U.S. negotiations with Iran , at least fifty House Democrats and eight senators chose not to attend the session. Notably, then-Vice President Joe Biden, the president of the Senate, skipped the Netanyahu address. This time, several key Democratic members of Congress have indicated that they are unlikely to attend Netanyahu’s address, including Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee and one of the most ardent advocates for human rights in the chamber. McGovern, who boycotted Netanyahu’s 2015 appearance after descibing the invitation as “deeply troubling,” says he’ll stay clear of this year’s speech, as well, explaining that, “I wish it wasn’t [happening].”
One senator who will definitely not greet Netanyahu is Vermont independent Bernie Sanders.
“I certainly will not attend,” Sanders announced, as soon as the prime minister accepted the invite. “Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal. He should not be invited to address a joint meeting of Congress.”
Sanders said then that, “Israel, of course, had the right to defend itself against the horrific Hamas terrorist attack of October 7th, but it did not, and does not, have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people. Israel does not have the right to kill more than 34,000 civilians and wound over 80,000 – 5 percent of the population of Gaza. It does not have the right to orphan 19,000 children. It does not have the right to displace 75 percent of the people of Gaza from their homes. It does not have the right to damage or destroy over 60 percent of the housing in Gaza. It does not have the right to destroy the civilian infrastructure of Gaza, to obliterate water and sewage systems, and deny electricity to the people of Gaza. It does not have the right to annihilate Gaza’s health care system, knocking 26 hospitals out of service and killing more than 400 health care workers. It does not have the right to bomb all 12 of Gaza’s universities and 56 of its schools, or deny 625,000 children in Gaza the opportunity for an education. It most certainly does not have the right to block humanitarian aid – food and medical supplies – from coming in to the desperate people of Gaza, creating the conditions for starvation and famine. It does not have the right to condemn hundreds of thousands of children to death by starvation. This is a clear violation of American and international law. The International Criminal Court recently announced that it is seeking warrants for the arrest of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas. The ICC is right. Both of these people are engaged in clear and outrageous violations of international law.”

That statement drew a rebuke from House Speaker Johnson, who in a Fox News appearance on Sunday, accused Sanders of “parroting the talking points of Hamas” and added, “Our Democrat colleagues have to make a choice: Are they going to stand with our most important ally in the Middle East at the most desperate time as has traditionally been the case in Washington… or are they going to take this new side and stand with Hamas and the Ayatollah?”

Johnson was dramatically off base. Sanders, a Jew who lost much of his extended family the Holocaust and who once lived on an Israeli kibbutz, has been a consistent critic of Hamas, describing the group as a terrorist organization. His objections to Netanyahu’s policies echo those of a growing number of world leaders from countries that have historically been sympathetic with Israel, as well as U.S. groups such as If Not Now, Rabbis for Ceasefire and  Jewish Voice for Peace Action, which has referred to the inviation to Netanyahu as, “Yet another stomach-turning act from Congressional leadership that they fully support Benjamin Netanyahu’s genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Sanders delivered a withering response to Johnson in a speech on the Senate floor. “When we think about the wisdom of Mr. Netanyahu being invited to address both houses of Congress – an honor, to address both houses of Congress and the American people, we should remember that his government, according to virtually every humanitarian organization functioning in Gaza, has blocked – intentionally blocked – humanitarian aid – that is food, water, and medical supplies – from reaching the desperate people of Gaza, which has created on top of everything else the conditions for starvation and famine,” said the senator, who added, “I will tell you, as you probably already know, that blocking humanitarian aid and creating the conditions for famine is not only an act of extreme cruelty – using starvation as an act of war – but it is a violation of both American and international law.  It is a war crime.  That is what it is.”

Displaying pictures of malnourished Gazan children, Sanders said,  “I would say to Speaker Johnson that, when you attend your fundraising dinners with your billionaire friends, and you eat your fine steaks and your lobsters and your other wonderful food, please remember these pictures from Gaza.” The senator concluded by calmly announcing that, “These children and thousands more are the direct result of Netanyahu’s policies – Netanyahu, the man Speaker Johnson has invited to address Congress. No, Mr. President, I will not be in attendance for that speech.”