Democratic lawmakers oppose Netanyahu’s congressional address amid genocide allegations and ICC arrest warrants

As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu faces potential arrest warrants and accusations of genocide, House Democrats intensify opposition to Speaker Johnson’s invitation for him to address Congress.

Image Credit: AFP

A growing number of U.S. congressional Democrats are pushing back against House Speaker Mike Johnson’s invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. The opposition comes as Netanyahu faces allegations of genocide in a World Court case and the prospect of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for alleged crimes against humanity in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s government has been accused of severe human rights violations in Gaza, particularly following events on and after Oct. 7. The ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has applied for arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders for crimes committed during this period. Additionally, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently ordered Israel to halt its assault on Rafah.

Netanyahu’s potential congressional address is controversial not only due to these allegations but also because of his display of flags associated with the Jan. 6 insurrection. The “Appeal to Heaven” flag, displayed at Alito’s beach house, and the upside-down American flag, seen at his home, have both been linked to the “Stop the Steal” movement.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) formally announced Netanyahu’s invitation on Thursday, but opposition among Democrats has been mounting. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who chairs the Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights Subcommittee, wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to support their call for Alito’s recusal from cases related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) criticized the timing of the invitation, describing it as “a strange time to invite Netanyahu” given the ongoing legal and ethical issues. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) agreed, stating, “I don’t think it’s a good time… let’s not complicate an already complicated situation.” House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Jim Himes (D-Conn.) added that Netanyahu “should be focused on freeing hostages, not on charming legislators.”

Progressive lawmakers have been particularly vocal in their opposition. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has indicated he would boycott any address by Netanyahu, calling the invitation “a terrible idea.” Sanders told CNN, “You have a prime minister who has created the worst humanitarian disaster in modern history. Israel, of course, had the right to defend itself against the Hamas terrorist attack, but what Netanyahu has done is go to war against—all-out war—against the entire Palestinian people, women and children.”

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) took a more dramatic stance, stating, “If Netanyahu comes to address Congress, I would be more than glad to show the ICC the way to the House floor to issue that warrant.”

Netanyahu’s history of controversial statements and actions further complicates the situation. In 2008, he remarked that Israel “benefited” from the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, a statement that raised significant eyebrows and added to his contentious reputation. Netanyahu also faces multiple criminal corruption charges in Israel unrelated to the Palestinian issue, adding to the legal and ethical concerns surrounding his potential address.

A Netanyahu address to Congress could have significant ramifications for U.S.-Israel relations and the internal dynamics of the Democratic Party. It risks deepening divisions within the party and could influence future U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Additionally, Netanyahu’s appearance could be seen as tacit U.S. support for his controversial policies, potentially damaging America’s reputation on the international stage.

Advocacy groups and public opinion are divided on the issue. Palestinian rights organizations have condemned the invitation, while Israeli advocacy groups support it, highlighting the polarized views on Netanyahu’s leadership and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The ICC and ICJ are key players in international law, with mechanisms to address crimes against humanity and other severe violations. Historical examples of international arrest warrants highlight the challenges and importance of enforcing international law, especially against powerful political figures.

Previous instances of leaders facing international legal challenges provide important lessons. For example, the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the ICC demonstrated the complexities of holding sitting leaders accountable for alleged crimes.

“Democrats have a responsibility for defending our democracy,” stated Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), highlighting the critical role of ethical governance in maintaining international and domestic trust


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