Sat 25 May 2024 7:44 am - Jerusalem Time

US responds to ICC war crimes probe by inviting Netanyahu to address Congress

In a show of veneration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited to address American lawmakers in Congress. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson revealed yesterday that Netanyahu will soon address a joint session of Congress in person. “We will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress,” Johnson said, noting that it would be “a very strong show of support to the Israeli government.”

The invitation comes as Netanyahu faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) related to Israel’s military onslaught in Gaza. ICC chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, made a historic decision on Monday requesting arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. The warrants cover crimes of extermination and starvation as methods of war; the denial of humanitarian relief supplies and deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.

In response to the ICC’s intervention, US lawmakers have taken the extraordinary step of escalating threats against Khan and his team with sanctions. If warrants are issued for Netanyahu’s arrest, it will oblige all 124 ICC signatory States to arrest and hand over the Israeli prime minister and Gallant if they set foot on their territory.

Though the US is not a signatory and Netanyahu can continue to visit Washington if arrest warrants are issued, this invitation is seen as a snub against the ICC for its targeting of a close US ally. The US is the only country in the world to pass a law giving its president the power to use any means available, including invasion, air bombardment, blackmail and even kidnapping, if necessary, to stop the ICC from prosecuting any American soldier in the custody of the ICC.


Despite its opposition to the ICC, the administration of President Joe Biden has been critical of Netanyahu. The Israeli leader has closely aligned himself with Republicans, and the speech is expected to further anger progressive Democrats critical of Israel’s actions and President Biden’s support for them.

Some see Johnson’s invitation as an attempt to drive a further wedge between Democrats and Israel in an election year. Johnson, an ally of the former US President Donald Trump, had issued Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer an ultimatum to sign a letter inviting Netanyahu or else he would only speak to the House of Representatives. Schumer signalled he was open to Congress hosting Netanyahu, despite declaring in March that the Israeli leader had “lost his way” and calling for new elections in Israel.

Similar tension arose in 2015 when Republican leaders invited Netanyahu to address Congress without consulting then-President Barack Obama, as part of an unsuccessful bid to derail the Iran nuclear deal. Dozens of Democrats boycotted that speech, raising the prospect that some could stay away this time as well.

Addresses to Congress are a rare honour generally reserved for the closest US allies. Netanyahu has already been given three speeches, most recently in 2015 when he received 28 standing ovations in 47 minutes. Johnson did not specify a date for the upcoming address.


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US responds to ICC war crimes probe by inviting Netanyahu to address Congress