Sanders says he’ll boycott Netanyahu speech

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Wednesday he would not attend any speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Congress, adding to rising pushback from Democrats against Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) effort to send an invitation.

Johnson said earlier Wednesday he expects Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to sign off on Netanyahu’s visit Thursday, after days of back-and-forth over whether the controversial Israeli leader should be allowed to address a joint session of Congress amid harsh criticism over the country’s strategy in the Israel-Hamas war.

“Look, you have a prime minister who has created the worst humanitarian disaster in modern history,” Sanders told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in an interview. “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.”

“Five percent of the population is now dead or wounded. 60 percent of them are women and children. Some 200,000 housing units have been completely destroyed,” he continued. “Every university in Gaza has been bombed. There is now imminent starvation taking place.”

“So why you would invite somebody who has done such horrific things to the Palestinian people is something that I think is a very bad idea,” he added.

Democrats have attempted to strike a difficult balance between supporting an ally in Israel and pushing back against Netanyahu’s government. The Biden administration has consistently pressured Israel to slow its military advance in Gaza, citing mass civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Schumer said he is open to extending an invitation to Netanyahu, after Johnson said Tuesday that he would send the invitation with or without his backing. Sanders’ comments add to a group of Democrats who have already said they would skip the speech.

“I boycotted his last visit. I certainly will not attend this one,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a Jewish Democrat who characterized Netanyahu as “a menace.”

“It’s not going to help move us forward — it’s a detriment,” she continued. “Should he come for any reason, in any venue, I am not going to be there.”

The pushback comes after the International Criminal Court (ICC) filed an application for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense minister over war crimes. The court has accused the Israeli leaders of directly targeting civilians and using starvation as a weapon of war.

The Israeli government and the Biden administration have harshly criticized the ICC’s recommendation. A House bill to sanction the international court is expected to reach a vote in the coming weeks.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said the ICC’s move has ruined the prime minister’s credibility.

“I don’t expect much from Netanyahu anymore,” he said. “I barely consider him a world leader. I consider him a war criminal, at this point.”

Reps. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) and the Congressional Black Caucus have also raised concerns about the visit, objecting to Johnson’s decision earlier this year not to extend the same honor to the president of Kenya.

Schumer’s promised support for a Netanyahu invitation comes just weeks after he said Israel should have new elections. The New York Democrat, the highest-ranking Jewish official in U.S. history, said the Israeli leader had “lost his way” in scathing remarks from the Senate floor.

Sanders said Wednesday that he “strongly” disagreed with Schumer’s promises to sign the invitation.

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