Freed Hamas hostage to attend State of the Union as guest of House Speaker Johnson

Mia Schem, one of the hostages freed from Gaza during a hostage deal last year, will be a guest at President Joe Biden’s speech on Thursday

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Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli woman, is reunited with her family following 55 days in Hamas captivity on November 30, 2023 in Be'er Sheva, Israel.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has invited Mia Schem, a freed Hamas hostage, as a guest to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday.

“At the State of the Union, I will be honored to host Mia Schem, who experienced the terrors of Hamas firsthand,” Johnson said in a statement to Jewish Insider. “Mia spent more than 50 days in captivity after being kidnapped on October 7th. I’m proud to stand with Mia and join her in demanding the release [of] all the hostages still held captive by Hamas. We must continue to fight to get them home.”

Schem said in a statement she was “deeply honored to have been invited” to the address.

“While my thoughts and prayers are constantly with my friends who are still being held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, I am grateful to the Speaker for allowing me to show my gratitude for all the United States Government has done to assist the people of Israel in their time of need,” she said. “The bond between our countries is more important than ever and cannot be broken. As believers in God, we continue to pray together for peace.”

Schem has spoken out about the “hell” she experienced in Gaza, after being shot in the arm and kidnapped from the Nova music festival on Oct. 7. She said she was subjected to mental abuse and deprived of food, and constantly feared she would be sexually assaulted. She spent 54 days in custody, some of that with a family in Gaza who, with their children, would watch her like “an animal at the zoo” and taunt her.

The French-Israeli woman was forced to film propaganda videos by Hamas, including one praising her treatment in captivity. Schem has since said she believes “there are no innocent civilians in Gaza.”

Schem required extensive surgery on her arm and now suffers from epilepsy from her time in captivity.

Schem will join family members of at least 17 hostages who are still being held, were recently freed or have died as guests of various members of Congress at the president’s address. Johnson also partnered with Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) to invite Orna and Daniel Neutra, the mother and brother of hostage Omer Neutra.

The Israeli woman will also be meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Biden is expected to address the situation in Israel and Gaza during his speech, as his administration accelerates efforts to secure a six-week cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that aims to free the remaining hostages. He faces pressure from the left to call for a permanent end to the fighting. Administration officials have also offered growing criticism of Israel’s operations in Gaza, while blaming Hamas for the lack of a cease-fire deal.

Lawler said that inviting the Neutra family will serve as a counterweight to those seeking to redefine or obscure the origins of the current war.

“As Hamas’ propagandists and unwitting accomplices seek to turn the world against Israel, it’s crucial that we remain steadfast, remember who started this war, and not forget the hostages and their loved ones,” Lawler told JI. “When President Biden delivers his State of the Union on Thursday, I hope he will look at the faces of the Neutras and other family members of hostages and reaffirm America’s commitment to bring their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, grandparents, and grandchildren home safely.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) will bring Schem’s mother, Keren Scharf Schem, as his guest.

Sens. Ted Budd (R-NC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are hosting Lucy and Hannah Siegel, the sister and niece of Keith Siegel, who is a North Carolina native. Keith’s wife, Aviva, was released in the earlier hostage deal.

“The American people cannot forget that six of our fellow citizens are still being held hostage by Hamas terrorists for more than 150 days,” Budd told JI. “The ordeal that these families are going through is horrifying, and I will continue working as hard as I can to see that these Americans are released and returned to their families.”

Tillis added, “While it is a great relief that Aviva has been released, we are still working to secure Keith’s freedom from Hamas captivity. As the terrorist organization Hamas continues its brutal reign over the Palestinian people, we must continue to work to ensure they can never return to power and release all the remaining hostages, including many Americans alongside Keith.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) will bring his constituent Adi Alexander, father of Idan Alexander, and Jonathan Dekel-Chen, the father of Segui Dekel-Chen, as guests, in cooperation with Reps. Jason Smith (R-MO) and Jodey Arrington (R-TX).

“Their presence is a strong reminder that Americans, including Adi’s son Edan and Jonathan’s son Sagui, are still being held hostage at hands of Hamas terrorists,” Gottheimer said in a statement. “It’s been 150 days since they were captured. Nothing is more important than getting them home now. Period.”

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ) is hosting Yael Alexander, Idan’s mother.

“It is an honor to have Yael, Edan’s mother, as my guest to the State of the Union to continue telling his story until Edan and every single hostage is returned home safely. Yael, Adi, and the entire Alexander family have shown incredible strength over these past five months,” Norcross told JI. “I have met with families  of hostages in Israel and here at home and their stories and pain are heartbreaking. One day as a hostage is too many, and we must bring Edan and the remaining American and Israeli hostages home now without further delay.”

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) is hosting Yehuda Beinin, the father of Liat Atzili, who was released from Hamas custody, and whose husband Aviv Atzili was killed on Oct. 7.

“The pain and suffering that the families of these hostages have gone through is unimaginable, and everyone across the world should hear their stories,” Van Drew told JI. “Every single hostage that remains in Gaza must be released and this administration must do everything in its power to bring these individuals home. My heart goes out to the state of Israel and the Jewish communities across the world. It is an honor to be accompanied by Yehuda Beinin.”

Gillian Kaye, a constituent of Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) will be attending the speech at his invitation. Kaye is the stepmother of Sagui Dekel-Chen.

“Ms. Kaye’s presence at the State of the Union is integral to keeping national and international attention on bringing every single hostage home,” Steube said in a statement.

Kaye added, “We will only be whole again with the return of all hostages and appreciate so much the partnership with our congresspeople who have advocated tirelessly on our behalf.”

Other guests include Andrea Weinstein, sister of Judy Weinstein and Gad Haggai, invited by Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY); Hagit Chen, mother of Itay Chen, invited by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA); Ruby Chen, father of Itay Chen; Ester Israeli, aunt of Itay; and Jerry Fischer, cousin of Liat Atzili; Liz Naftali, great-aunt of Abigail Mor Edan, invited by Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI); Ronen Neutra, father of Omer, invited by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY); and Abby Polin, aunt of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, invited by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL).

Johnson will also be hosting the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is imprisoned in Russia, at the speech.

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