Rep. Ro Khanna Joins Other Lawmakers In Boycotting Netanyahu's Speech To Congress

California Rep. Ro Khanna became the latest Democratic lawmaker to announce his refusal to attend a highly anticipated speech before Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing the leader’s role in continuing the devastating U.S.-funded military offensive in Gaza while rejecting efforts to prioritize a cease-fire deal.

Last month, a bipartisan group of top lawmakers invited Netanyahu to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress on July 24 in an effort to highlight the unwavering support the U.S. government has for Israel, which for more than eight months has rained bombs on the Palestinian enclave in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people and abducted roughly 250, half of whom were released during a temporary cease-fire last year. 

Israel’s military offensive has since killed more than 37,000 Palestinians — mostly women and children — displaced the majority of the population of 2.3 million, abducted and tortured Palestinian men and boys, destroyed hospitals and water and sewage infrastructure, and created a starvation crisis by blocking humanitarian aid from reaching civilians.

Multiple countries, human rights groups and international agencies have since accusedIsrael of committing genocide against Palestinians, an allegation the Israeli government and the U.S. deny. The International Criminal Court recently accused Netanyahu, his defense minister and three Hamas leaders of war crimes pertaining to the war.

The ongoing devastation by Netanyahu’s far-right government continues to create a deep division among U.S. lawmakers, many of whom believe inviting the Israeli leader to speak before Congress is inappropriate.

“I will not attend. I said that if he wants to come to speak to members of Congress about how to end the war and release hostages, I would be fine doing that,” Khanna, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “But I’m not going to sit in a one-way lecture.”

Khanna’s comments follow those of South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a top Democrat and co-chair of Biden’s reelection campaign, who also said he plans to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. Clyburn alsso did not sit in on the Israeli leader’s speech when he was last at the Capitol.

“I’m going to treat him the same way he treated [former President] Barack Obama,” Clyburn said of Netanyahu earlier this month on NewsNation’s “The Hill Sunday.”

The lawmaker was referring to when Netanyahu was invited by Republicans to speak to Congress in 2015 — near the end of Obama’s second term — to condemn the Democratic president’s effort to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, as well as his support for Palestinian statehood, an idea the Israeli leader continues to oppose today.

“I agree with Rep. Clyburn. I mean, how [Netanyahu] treated President Obama, he should not expect reciprocity,” Khanna said Sunday. “That said, I think it should be polite, and we’re not going to make a big deal about it. He’s obviously addressing the Congress, and there has to be decorum.”

Lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who for months has been vocal in his opposition to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, have been more direct in their decision to boycott Netanyahu’s speech.

“I think I speak not just for myself, but for a number of other senators who think that that decision is a very, very bad one,” Sanders told NBC’s Chris Hayes earlier this month. “You do not honor a foreign leader by addressing a joint session of Congress who is currently engaged in the worst humanitarian disaster in the modern history of this country.”

“What we are seeing now is starvation and famine impacting thousands and thousands of children,” he continued. “The architect of that policy is not somebody you honor by bringing to the United States Congress.”

Sanders has said that he would not attend a speech before a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing the leader's role in the ongoing military offensive in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.
Sanders has said that he would not attend a speech before a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing the leader's role in the ongoing military offensive in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians. Samuel Corum via Getty Images

Among the top lawmakers to invite Netanyahu was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the country’s highest-ranking Jewish elected official and a Democrat who, in March, said the Israeli leader had “lost his way.” Schumer later said that while he vehemently disagrees with Netanyahu, he invited the leader to Congress because “America’s relationship with Israel is ironclad.”

Providing Netanyahu a platform in Congress “undermines the cease-fire deal that President Biden is trying to get Israeli leadership to accept,” said Lily Greenberg Call, according to IfNotNow, a Jewish American group against Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip.

Greenberg Call, the first Jewish American political appointee of the Biden administration to resign over the U.S.’s Gaza policy, made the remarks while protesting with fellow Jewish Americans at Schumer’s office last week over Netanyahu’s upcoming speech. The demonstration was organized by IfNotNow.

“Sen. Schumer, you need to listen to your voters, the American people, to the majority of American Jews who want Biden to stop sending weapons to Israel, and to the hostage families who are urging Jewish leaders to pressure Israel to accept the deal,” Greenberg Call continued. “What values are leading you to invite a war criminal like Netanyahu here, senator? They can’t be the same Jewish values I learned. … Think hard about your legacy — it’s up to you to decide.”