Prominent Senate Democrat Calls Netanyahu Invitation to Address Congress a Mistake

(Bloomberg) -- A prominent Senate Democrat criticized the decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the US Congress, saying it risks signaling that the US endorses his war strategy when it should be using leverage to demand more protections for Palestinian civilians.

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Senate and House leaders from both parties have invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress scheduled for July 24. They did so despite criticism over the civilian death toll in the war in Gaza, which has caused divisions among US lawmakers, led to public disagreements with President Joe Biden and sparked protests around the country.

“I’m not sure why the United States would want to reward a prime minister who has repeatedly flaunted the requests of the president of the United States,” Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in an interview in his office in Washington. “Netanyahu wants to come here and pretend he’s Winston Churchill — and he is no Winston Churchill.”

Van Hollen’s stance has drawn attention because he’s closer to the center of his party than other critics of Israel’s handling of the war, such as independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip to root out Hamas. The group, designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, killed more than 1,200 Israelis and abducted more than 250 on Oct. 7, triggering the continuing war. More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between combatants and civilians.

Van Hollen repeated his call to pause the transfer of offensive weapons to Israel until the US receives assurances the ally will adhere to certain conditions.

“When it comes to offensive weapons systems, I don’t think we should have a policy of a one-way blank check,” Van Hollen said. He added Netanyahu likely sees it as a sign of “weakness” that the Biden administration has consistently undermined its own attempts to pressure Israel, such as pausing one shipment of bombs but stressing that other weapons were still being sent.

Israel should be required to allow better delivery of food and medicine to Gaza, stop the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and allow funds to reach the Palestinian Authority that governs there, Van Hollen said.

--With assistance from Steven T. Dennis.

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