Netanyahu to address U.S. Congress

Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would soon address a joint meeting of Congress amid heightened tension with President Joe Biden over the Israeli leader’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Delivering a keynote speech at the Israeli embassy’s annual Independence Day reception, Johnson, the top congressional Republican and a critic of the Democratic president’s Israel policy, said it would be “a strong show of support for the Israeli government in their time of greatest need.”

Such a speech is sure to further anger progressive Democrats critical of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and Biden’s support for it. Netanyahu has closely aligned himself with Republicans.

The diplomatic gathering in Washington comes amid strains between Biden and Netanyahu over a U.S. push for Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in the war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The embassy gave equal billing to Democratic U.S. Representative Pete Aguilar, who shared the high-profile platform with Johnson at a more subdued event under the shadow of the Gaza war. “As Americans, we reaffirm our commitment to Israel’s sovereignty,” Aguilar said.

Speaking first, Johnson said to applause: “Tonight I’m happy to announce … we will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress.”

Successive U.S. administrations have usually sent a high-level official to the Independence Day receptions. Vice President Kamala Harris, who in recent months has called the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian catastrophe” and has urged a ceasefire, delivered last year’s keynote, mostly extolling U.S. backing for Israel.

An Israeli official said this year the embassy wanted to honor lawmakers in a bipartisan way in appreciation for congressional approval of billions of dollars in new U.S. military aid.

The reception took place on the same night as a White House state dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto, which the Israeli official said created a scheduling conflict for cabinet members. Several less senior Biden aides were in attendance, including Derek Chollet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s counselor.