Schumer joins Johnson in rolling out Congressional red carpet for Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the U.S. House chamber in 2015 during his last address to a joint session of Congress. Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly signed on to a plan by Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to again invite the Israeli leader to Washington as a guest to speak in Congress. | AP

WASHINGTON—Did Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer forget that only a few weeks ago he declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “an obstacle to peace” who deserves to be removed from office by Israeli voters?

Apparently so, because the New York Democrat has signed on to Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan to host Netanyahu as a guest of honor to deliver a speech in Washington at a joint session of Congress.

Johnson started drafting the invitation after lawmakers in his party suggested bringing Netanyahu to town immediately following Schumer’s call for voters to evict the prime minister. In March, Schumer issued a variation of “maybe” regarding a potential Netanyahu invite. Now, the Senate Majority Leader says “yes” to hosting the leader overseeing the genocide in Gaza.

“He intends to join the invitation; the timing is being worked out,” a Schumer spokesperson said this weekend. The formal invitation letter has yet been issued and a date has not been set.

Supposedly, Netanyahu was angered when Schumer—long known as a major Senate supporter of aid to Israel—said that the prime minister had “lost his way” and was being pushed to “tolerate the civilian death toll” by far-right coalition allies in his cabinet.

The Democratic leader neither called for a ceasefire nor for President Joe Biden to halt weapons shipments to Israel, but he said that along with Hamas and the extremists in the Israeli government, Netanyahu was standing in the way of a negotiated peace.

News of Schumer joining forces with Johnson comes as the Israeli military is reportedly making final preparations for its next horrific assault, this time on the Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have sought refuge from Netnanyu’s U.S.-made bombs.

On Sunday, Axios reported that the Biden administration has “put a hold” on a shipment of U.S.-made ammunition to Israel, presumably over its opposition to the planned attack on Rafah. No details have yet emerged about exactly what kind of or how much ammunition was in the shipment, how long it is to be put on hold, or what conditions would secure its release.

The White House, the Pentagon, the State Deparment, and Netanyahu’s office have all refused to comment as of press time.

As for the invitation to Netanyahu, anger has already erupted. Former New York Democratic congressional candidate Lindsey Boylan posted on X, “I am not surprised by Johnson here. I am irretrievably disappointed” in Sen. Schumer.

Given that Johnson, a Trumpite Republican, drafted the initial letter, it’s a sign that military aid to Israel, an issue that enjoyed bipartisan support for years, is being weaponized for the elections. Republicans, seeking to both make inroads among Jewish voters—who are overwhelmingly Democratic—and to appease their own White Christian nationalist base in the MAGA camp, have wrapped themselves in the Israeli flag.

Biden and the Democrats, meanwhile, face a growing revolt on college campuses for a ceasefire in the war and against U.S. military aid to Israel and for boycotts of and divestment in Israel-linked corporations. The college/youth vote is a key segment of Biden’s re-election coalition.

No major lawmakers have yet responded to the pending invitation, but it is sure to cause even more uproar thanks to Netanyahu’s declaration in a televised statement on May 5 that the war would continue even if Hamas releases the remaining estimated 150 hostages it took last October. It’s released approximately 100 during prior ceasefires in the war.

The last time Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress, nine years ago, dozens of progressive Democrats boycotted his speech. The PM’s address also left Democratic President Barack Obama steaming. The speech was the result of another Republican invitation.

Then, Netanyahu bluntly denounced the U.S.-European coalition pact with Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons. Obama’s successor, Republican Donald Trump, annulled that pact.

This time, Johnson told reporters, “I sent a letter draft, because it’s a bicameral invitation letter. It’s been sitting on Chuck Schumer’s desk.”

So far, Israel’s war on Gaza has killed over 34,000 civilians—70% of them women and children.

It’s also created 1.4 million refugees, most of them now in Rafah. There’s also widespread famine due to Israeli blockages of humanitarian aid. Numerous press reports, inside and outside Israel, say Netanyahu will order a military attack on Rafah this week.

Republicans, led by Johnson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Biden’s predecessor—and pending foe this fall—Trump, have made aid to Israel an intensely partisan issue, for their own reasons. Aiding Israel caters to their Christian fundamentalist base across the U.S.

Most of the bombs, bullets, and shells used in Gaza, along with the weapons systems and planes that deliver them, are U.S.-made. An estimated 80% of the money the U.S. government has spent on “aid” has gone to U.S. weapons manufacturers to replenish depleted weapons stocks here. Lawmakers recently approved another $15 billion in military aid to Israel, which Biden had requested. The measure also included $9 billion for humanitarian aid in Gaza and $2.4 billion for U.S. military operations in the region.

The threatened Rafah offensive may have already begun, as Israel told 100,000 displaced Gazans to get out of town and head for so-called “safe areas” overnight on Sunday The messages came from radio, leaflets, loudspeakers and via social media.

James Elder, a spokesman for the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, who went to Gaza in April, told the BBC that Gazans had to head to overcrowded areas that lack basic facilities.

“They will move because the choice is move or be bombed. But they will move to places where there is no water—not a little bit of water, but no water—and no sanitation,” said Elder.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.