WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver an address a the Capitol, a show of wartime support for the longtime ally despite mounting political divisions over Israel’s military assault on Gaza.

The invitation from House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, along with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, has been in the works for some time. No date for the speech was set.

Leaders said the invitation was extended to “highlight America’s solidarity with Israel.”

“We invite you to share the Israeli government’s vision for defending democracy, combatting terror and establishing a just and lasting peace in the region,” they wrote.

The invitation comes as the Israel-Hamas war, now in its seventh month after the Oct. 7 surprise attack by the Palestinian militant group, has caused widespread concerns in the U.S. and abroad over Israel’s conduct and the extensive civilian death toll.

A speech by Netanyahu would almost certainly expose election-year divisions in the U.S., where a growing number of Democrats have turned away from the right-wing prime minister, while Republicans draw closer to the Israeli leader.

As Israel pushes into Rafah in Gaza, the International Criminal Court has accused Netanyahu and his defense minister, along with three Hamas leaders, of war crimes — a largely symbolic act but one that further isolates the Israeli leader.

President Joe Biden in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas lambasted the ICC’s case against Netanyahu, but he has nevertheless grown critical of Israel’s war plans, and has pressed for assurances of humanitarian aid.

It is unclear if Biden and Netanyahu would meet in Washington.

In Congress, the debates over the Israel-Hamas war have been pitched, heated and divisive, amplified during the college campus protests this spring, showing how the once ironclad support for Israel has weakened and splintered.

Schumer, who is the highest ranking Jewish elected official in the U.S., delivered a stinging rebuke of the Israeli leader in March, saying in speech that Netanyahu had “lost his way.”

Republicans, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, have been eager to display their support for Netanyahu and expose the Democratic divisions over Israel.

Johnson first suggested inviting Netanyahu, saying it would be “a great honor of mine” to invite the Israeli leader, after Schumer’s own negative comments.

More recently, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, became the highest ranking Republican elected official from the U.S. to deliver a speech before the Israeli parliament.

In 2015, Netanyahu was invited to address Congress in a rebuff to then-President Barack Obama by a previous Republican speaker during disputes over Iran.

source

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