Bibi boycott

Democrats speak out against left-wing efforts to interrupt Netanyahu’s congressional speech

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA): ‘For any member that boycotts, it makes a Hamas terrorist smile’


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on May 5, 2024.

Democrats, including both prominent critics and strong supporters of Israel, pushed back on Wednesday against the prospect of their colleagues protesting during or attempting to disrupt Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s as-yet-unscheduled address to a joint meeting of Congress.

The speech is expected to attract a widespread progressive boycott, as Netanyahu’s last speech to Congress, in 2015, did, when support for Israel was widespread on the Democratic side.

But some lawmakers have begun floating the idea of attending the speech and attempting to protest or otherwise disrupt it, an escalation that would echo incidents seen at President Joe Biden’s last several State of the Union addresses.

Axios quoted an unnamed senior House Democrat on Tuesday as saying that “a number [of Democrats] are going and disrupting” the remarks. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) ran a social media poll last week floating the possibility of an “inside protest” during the speech, subsequently proposing a number of different methods of attending while showing opposition. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who has been vocally critical of Israel’s military operations in Gaza, said, “I don’t think [disrupting Netanyahu’s speech] makes any sense.”

He alluded to the case of two members of the Tennessee House who organized a gun violence protest on the Statehouse floor, and were ultimately expelled by Republicans.

“I don’t know that that’s the best place to call for a protest in the United States of America,” Raskin said. He said he hasn’t made up his mind on attending yet, citing the lack of a confirmed date.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), who led a May letter accusing Israel of violating U.S. regulations on foreign aid recipients by restricting humanitarian aid, said, “I never support disruptions and protests on the House floor. That’s not something that I would support or condone.”

Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT), who has condemned Netanyahu in recent months and voted against supplemental aid to Israel, said he would not be part of a disruption, but that he was undecided on whether he’d attend the speech.

During Biden’s 2024 State of the Union, Squad-affiliated members silently held up signs calling for a cease-fire and the end of U.S. aid to Israel during the president’s remarks, and several also wore Palestinian flag pins and keffiyehs. Republicans, meanwhile, have heckled and disrupted Biden’s last few speeches.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), a moderate pro-Israel Democrat who is up for reelection in November, said his attendance “depends on when it is,” telling JI that he could not guarantee he would be able to make the address. 

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who has also been critical of Israeli military operations, declined to comment, saying he hadn’t heard reports about disruptions and said he can’t commit to attending until a date is set, but said “I generally go to all these speeches. So my disposition is always to go and listen to leaders.”

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), one of the party’s loudest pro-Israel advocates, firmly denounced potential protests.

“For any member that boycotts, it makes a Hamas terrorist smile,” Fetterman said. “I don’t think it’s helpful; I don’t think performance art is important during a war.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said that he hadn’t heard about the possibility of disruptions but would be “very surprised” if they occurred.

“The time and place for protest is not in the middle of a joint session, during the prime minister of a foreign government,” Blumenthal said. “There is room for disagreement and peaceful protests but not in the middle of his speech. Even though I respect motivations and desire to be heard.”

Former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told JI that he was “concerned about it simply not being a positive visit.” He said yesterday he did not think that the Netanyahu visit would be “helpful for Israel or its supporters.”

Hoyer said, when asked about potential disruptions, that he was fine with lawmakers “expressing their views either before or after” the address, but “would hope that none of us would” interrupt Netanyahu “one way or the other.” 

“I hope they wouldn’t do that. I think that’s not appropriate,” he explained. “I would like it to be a very quiet audience that listens to what he has to say if he comes. I hope he doesn’t come.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said that Netanyahu’s actions ahead of the speech could determine what kind of turnout he receives. 

“What Prime Minister Netanyahu communicates in advance of the speech about what he intends to talk about, why he’s coming will have a big impact on how many attendees there will be,” Coons said. “He will be the first foreign leader in our history to be granted the opportunity for four speeches to our Congress. It’s really quite unprecedented.”

Another potential source of disruption could come from audience members. Hearings, press conferences and other events on Capitol Hill have routinely been interrupted by anti-Israel protesters for months. 

While access to speeches by foreign dignitaries is far more limited — lawmakers each receive a limited number of tickets to distribute — it’s not unprecedented for an audience member to interrupt a speech to the full Congress.

At Biden’s most recent State of the Union speech, an audience member invited by a House Republican shouted at Biden during the speech before being removed by police. The Republican congressman who invited him later celebrated the man’s action and condemned his arrest.

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