Netanyahu will soon address joint session of US Congress, Johnson says

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Republican US House Speaker Mike Johnson announced on Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would soon address a joint meeting of Congress amid heightened tensions with President Joe Biden over the Israeli leader’s handling of the 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.”

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Such a speech is sure to further anger some progressive Democrats who are increasingly critical of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and Biden’s support for it.

The diplomatic gathering came amid strains between Biden and Netanyahu over a US push for Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in the war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The embassy gave equal billing to a speech by Democratic US Representative Pete Aguilar, who shared the high-profile platform with Johnson at a more subdued event under the shadow of the Gaza war. He said US support for Israel was "iron-clad."

Speaking first, Johnson said to applause from the heavily pro-Israel audience: "Tonight I’m happy to announce something else to you. We will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress."

Successive US administration have usually sent a high-level official to the Independence Day receptions, reflecting Israel’s status as Washington’s top Middle East ally.

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. Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke the year before.

An Israeli official said this year that the embassy wanted to honor lawmakers in a bipartisan way with high-profile speaking roles in appreciation for congressional approval of new US military aid to Israel.

The reception took place on the same night as a White House state dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto, which the Israeli official said created a scheduling conflict for senior members of the administration. Other more junior administration officials were on the embassy’s guest list, according to the Israeli official.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the absence of a senior Biden aide from the speakers’ list.

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