Ocasio-Cortez, Bowman, Omar to boycott Herzog’s speech, others remain mum

It is unlikely that as many members who boycotted PM Netanyahu’s 2015 address to Congress will sit out the Israeli president’s upcoming address

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speak with each other as they arrive to deliver remarks to the press before their meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 25, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

While three House progressives have announced plans to boycott Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday, it is unlikely, at this stage, that their boycott will be as significant in size as the one that took place during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress.

Fifty-eight Democratic lawmakers ultimately sat out Netanyahu’s 2015 address, which occurred as the U.S. was engaging in talks with Iran over its nuclear program, and months before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed upon. Just three — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who first announced her plans to Jewish Insider in a brief interview Thursday afternoon, Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — have said they plan to skip Herzog’s address.

Other prominent critics of Israeli policy remain publicly undecided on attending the speech. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) told JI to “stay tuned” while Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) responded, “next week.” 

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-IL) said she hadn’t yet looked at next week’s calendar, while Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) told JI she hadn’t considered the subject yet. Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO) declined to comment. 

Some lawmakers who skipped Netanyahu’s 2015 address, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) — the House minority whip, Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), confirmed to JI that they’re planning to attend Herzog’s speech on Wednesday.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told JI she hadn’t “heard the details yet” about the speech.

Twenty-five of the lawmakers who did not attend Netanyahu’s 2015 speech, which was driven in part by a rift with the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal, have since left Congress, and the remaining lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did a dozen other lawmakers who’ve voted against recent bipartisan pro-Israel legislation or joined legislation calling to restrict aid to Israel.

Other lawmakers who’ve been critical of Israeli policy — including Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Peter Welch (D-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) — confirmed to JI they’re attending or planning to attend the speech.

“I assume [I’ll be attending],” Murphy told JI. “I have not set my schedule for next week, but that would be certainly something I would likely be enthusiastically attending.”

Welch’s spokesperson noted that his plans could change given the ongoing storms and severe flooding in Vermont. 

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), one of 19 lawmakers who opposed a resolution celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding and supporting the Abraham Accords earlier this year, is also likely to attend, according to an individual familiar with the situation.

Some pro-Israel Democrats criticized those colleagues who’ve announced plans to boycott the address.

“I think it’s terrible,” Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) told JI. “I think they ought to listen to what he has to say. If you’re not willing to listen to the president, who is trying to achieve the right thing for his country — why close yourself off?”

“There’s no reason that anyone should be boycotting President Herzog,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) added.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) described the boycott as a “political stunt” that “damages the U.S.-Israel relationship — weakening America’s security at home & abroad.”

Six lawmakers — Bush, Omar, Bowman, Ocasio-Cortez, Lee and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — boycotted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent address to Congress, citing India’s human rights record toward its Muslim population.

Bowman was pictured shoulder-to-shoulder with Herzog on a J Street trip to Israel in 2021, which, alongside his vote in favor of supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, prompted backlash from Bowman’s Democratic Socialist allies.

He’s since taken a more critical stance toward Israel. A Bowman staffer worked behind the scenes — allegedly without authorization from his office — to reassure DSA members that Bowman would be taking steps to align more closely with them on Israel. 

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