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If Members of Congress truly cared about Israel’s wellbeing, they would boycott Netanyahu’s speech


In traditional Judaism, welcoming a guest — hachnassat orechim — is a very important mitzvah. Not only is it a good deed on the individual level, but it creates a sense of belonging and likeminded community, especially if the guest is a stranger in town.

Generally, it would be nice for the United States Congress to observe this mitzvah. Being invited to address a Joint Session is one of the highest honors our government can confer. Unfortunately, in the case of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Members of Congress who are real supporters of peace and security for both Israel and Palestine must reject the duty of hospitality, and boycott this utterly unfortunate and misbegotten appearance before Congress.

Let’s look at the facts. Netanyahu is facing an eventual election in which he will finally be held accountable for his government’s utter failure leading up to and on Oct. 7. He has bragged about destroying any attempt at serious peace negotiations in the 20-plus years he’s run Israel, and has dodged responsibility for his cynical decision to fund Hamas as a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority. Even before the Hamas attack caught his government completely unprepared, he was spending his time attempting to eviscerate the judiciary that is trying him for corruption and fraud.

His political games at home disgust his former war cabinet partners: they know and have said that the lack of any planning for an end to nine months of horrific war is due to Netanyahu’s desperate bid to delay his own day of political and criminal reckoning. 

Almost single-handedly, Netanyahu has made support for Israel into a partisan issue, so much so that Speaker Mike Johnson pushed for this invitation in an obvious bid to further divide the American people and in particular, American Jews. Only 31% of American Jewish voters have a favorable view of Netanyahu, according to a November 2023 poll by the Jewish Electorate Institute. The political games played by the Republican leadership, and the failure of the Democratic leadership to oppose it, are all too apparent. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called Netanyahu an obstacle to peace only a few short months ago, and truer words were never spoken. 

Most damning of all, Netanyahu has sacrificed hundreds of Israel’s soldiers and many thousands of Palestinian civilians to a vision of Israel based on the cruelest iteration of Jewish supremacy. Winking and nodding at his coalition partners representing the religious and nationalist fanatic far-right, he pretends statesmanship in English while in Hebrew, he simply accuses any and all critics of antisemitism while never addressing their very real critiques. 

The hell that is Gaza, the purgatory of the hostages and their families, the plight of thousands of Israelis who can’t go home to the north and south, and the indifference of the Netanyahu government to this incredible human cost — this is the most profound and important reason for Members of Congress to refuse to participate in the circus that is this visit.

There is yet another deal on the table for the release of the hostages, a ceasefire, and humanitarian aid to Gaza so that this war can end. The Netanyahu government is already bobbing and weaving to avoid backing the plan, and clearly wants to continue to drag out the war with Hamas that politically serves both adversaries. 

Netanyahu’s clear choice to prioritize his own political survival over the needs of his people is all the more reason to boycott his address. It’s a terrible shame that the lure of the Joint Session was not used as leverage to push him to embrace this deal, and it would be an even greater mistake for Congress to applaud Netanyahu as he uses this prestigious platform for more lies and evasions. He is not an ally. He is not a friend.

Boycotting this speech is not anti-Israel. As a matter of fact, this invitation actually undercuts the work and protests of millions of Israelis attempting to hold their own government accountable. They are in the streets every week by the hundreds of thousands, demanding the return of the hostages and immediate elections. Israelis from the center-right to the left are rightfully appalled by the cavalier dismissal of their needs and their concerns by their own government. Members of Congress who attend the Joint Session will, in effect, be thumbing their noses at the will of the Israeli people, who are desperate for responsible, accountable and honest leadership.

Now is the time to exert pressure on both Hamas and Israeli leadership to accept the ceasefire proposal on the table. This is a moment that requires bold leadership and a commitment to peace and a better future, not an endorsement of a leader whose actions have contributed to the current impasse.

Welcoming a guest is rightfully a mitzvah. Not this time. Members of Congress, skip the speech and stay home.

The post If Members of Congress truly cared about Israel’s wellbeing, they would boycott Netanyahu’s speech appeared first on The Forward.