newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Netanyahu will address Congress, Johnson announces at DC Israeli independence event

The Israeli prime minister’s address to a joint session of Congress will be a timely and “very strong show of support to the Israeli government at their time of greatest need,” the House speaker said.

The Israeli embassy held a May 23, 2024 celebration of Israel’s 76th Independence Day at the National Building Museum in Washington. Photo by Andrew Bernard.
The Israeli embassy held a May 23, 2024 celebration of Israel’s 76th Independence Day at the National Building Museum in Washington. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) broke news on Thursday evening at an Israeli embassy celebration of Israel’s 76th Independence Day, held at the National Building Museum, in Washington’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.

With as many as 80 members of Congress in attendance, Johnson announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will “soon” deliver an address to a joint session of Congress.

“This will be a timely and I think a very strong show of support to the Israeli government at their time of greatest need,” Johnson said.

The elected officials, leaders of U.S. Jewish organizations, diplomats, media figures and U.S., Israeli and foreign military officers who attended the event had to pass by dozens of anti-Israel protesters holding a “die-in” outside the museum.

Protesters, who used bullhorns to broadcast sounds of screaming children and machine gun bursts, confronted guests individually as they left the event.

Johnson did not say whether Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had signed on to the invitation to host Netanyahu. 

Foreign leaders are typically invited to address joint sessions of Congress by leaders of both the House and Senate, in coordination with the White House, but the House speaker can issue a unilateral invitation to address Congress.

Netanyahu’s last address to Congress in 2015 sparked significant political controversy, because the Republican House and Senate leaders issued the invitation without notifying the Democratic minority leaders or the Obama administration. (Netanyahu addressed a “joint meeting” on March 3, 2015.)

Israel event Building Museum DC
The Israeli embassy held a May 23, 2024 celebration of Israel’s 76th Independence Day at the National Building Museum in Washington. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

Johnson sent Schumer the draft invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress weeks ago and told reporters on Tuesday that Schumer had until Wednesday to sign on or he would issue it unilaterally, The Hill reported

Schumer, who labeled Netanyahu an “obstacle to peace” in March and called for new elections in Israel, told reporters on Wednesday that he supported the invitation but was still “discussing” it with the speaker. (JNS sought comment from Johnson’s and Schumer’s offices.)

Kibbutz Be’eri painting
A painting which was on view on Oct. 7 at Kibbutz Be’eri and which was pierced by Hamas bullets on view at the Israeli embassy’s May 23, 2024 celebration of Israel’s 76th Independence Day, held at the National Building Museum in Washington. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

The House speaker was the most senior U.S. official to attend Israel’s 76th anniversary bash on Thursday, with House Democrats sending Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), the Democratic Caucus chairman, as their keynote speaker.

Amb. Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, attended the event, but neither she nor any other Biden administration officials addressed attendees. Vice President Kamala Harris was the keynote speaker at the embassy’s event last year for Israel’s 75th anniversary.

Biden, Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and many other senior Democratic leaders attended a state dinner at the White House honoring the president of Kenya which took place at the same time as the Israeli embassy event.

Chairs hostages DC
Some of 128 empty chairs symbolizing the hostages at the Israeli embassy’s May 23, 2024 celebration of Israel’s 76th Independence Day, held at the National Building Museum in Washington. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

The first Israeli Independence Day event in Washington since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks, the gathering was both somber and celebratory.

For the event, the museum displayed a temporary exhibit at its entrance of red paintings that had been on display on Oct. 7 at a gallery in Kibbutz Be’eri. At least one of which was pierced by Hamas bullets.

There were also 128 yellow chairs that sat empty in the center of the hall with photographs of each of the hostages taken on that day.

“There are hundreds of families out there with loved ones still being held in Gaza,” said Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. “To them I say, ‘Our hearts are with you. I am here to say, unequivocally, we will not rest until they’re home.’”

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