Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu to address US Congress soon

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu to address US Congress soon
US House Speaker Mike Johnson says Israel's PM Netanyahu will be speaking at US Congress amid tension by Biden over Israel's handing over the war on Gaza.
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon be addressing the US Congress amid US-Israeli tension over the war on Gaza [GETTY]

Republican US House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would soon address a joint meeting of Congress amid heightened tension with President Joe Biden over the Israeli leader's handling of its war in Gaza.

Delivering a keynote speech at the Israeli embassy's annual Independence Day reception, Johnson, the top congressional Republican and a critic of the Democratic president's Israel policy, said it would be "a strong show of support for the Israeli government in their time of greatest need".

Such a speech is sure to further anger progressive Democrats critical of Israel's military campaign in Gaza and Biden's support for it. Netanyahu has closely aligned himself with Republicans.

The diplomatic gathering in Washington comes amid strains between Biden and Netanyahu over a US push for Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in the war on Gaza.

The embassy gave equal billing to Democratic US Representative Pete Aguilar, who shared the high-profile platform with Johnson at a more subdued event under the shadow of the war on Gaza. "As Americans, we reaffirm our commitment to Israel's sovereignty," he said.

Speaking first, Johnson said to applause: "Tonight I'm happy to announce ... we will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress."

Successive US administrations have usually sent high-level officials to the Independence Day receptions.

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Vice President Kamala Harris, who in recent months has called the situation in Gaza a "humanitarian catastrophe" and has urged a ceasefire, delivered last year's keynote, mostly extolling US backing for Israel.

An Israeli official said this year that the embassy wanted to honour lawmakers bipartisanallyy in appreciation for their approval of billions of dollars in new US military aid.

The reception occurred the same night as a White House state dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto, which the Israeli official said created a scheduling conflict for cabinet members.

Several less senior Biden aides were in attendance, including Derek Chollet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken's counsellor.

The White House declined to comment when asked whether it was consulted about the invitation to Netanyahu or whether Biden, who has denied an Oval Office meeting with the Israeli leader, might see him in Washington.