Skip to content

Progressive staffers call on their bosses to boycott Netanyahu visit

Letter cites ‘bombings of schools, hospitals, and mosques’ and a ‘campaign of mass starvation against Palestinian children’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured on June 18, is scheduled to speak to a joint meeting of Congress later this summer.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured on June 18, is scheduled to speak to a joint meeting of Congress later this summer. (Shaul Golan/AFP via Getty Images)

Ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress in July, House and Senate staffers are circulating a letter calling on Democrats to protest or skip it.

“This is not an issue of politics, but an issue of morality,” the letter reads.

Members of the Congressional Progressive Staff Association have railed in recent months against the war between Israel and Hamas, often anonymously. Now they are collecting signatures for their case against the Netanyahu visit.

“The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is seeking a warrant for his arrest for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. And yet … congressional leaders issued an invitation for him to address a joint [meeting] of Congress,” the letter reads.

The staffers cite “bombings of schools, hospitals, and mosques” and a “campaign of mass starvation against Palestinian children,” along with efforts to censor media coverage of the war.

CPSA will distribute the letter to every Democratic member of Congress in the coming weeks, ahead of Netanyahu’s scheduled appearance on July 24, according to an organizer.

“Citizens, students, and lawmakers across the country and the world have spoken out against the actions of Mr. Netanyahu in his War on Gaza. Israelis have been protesting in the streets for months, decrying his failure to negotiate a ceasefire and release of hostages,” the letter reads. 

It ends with a call to action: “We hope you will join your fellow Members of Congress in protest at his speech or in refusing to attend it.”

More than 50 Democrats sat out Netanyahu’s last visit to Congress, in 2015. It’s not clear how many will boycott this time, though several members have already signaled they won’t attend, including Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. 

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been critical of Netanyahu and his plans to appear before Congress, telling CNN, “I think this is wrong.” 

Republican Speaker Mike Johnson extended the invitation to Netanyahu in May, joined by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and the minority leaders of both chambers.

Tensions between progressive staffers and their often more moderate bosses have been high since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas last fall. 

A vigil was held on the House steps, and an anonymous letter circulated calling for a cease-fire. Eventually, an underground group of aides formed, called Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now, which is not officially affiliated with CPSA but has appealed to some of the same staffers. The cease-fire group held a fundraiser in February to raise money for support agencies in Gaza.

Until this spring, CPSA had not weighed in. As demonstrations roiled college campuses across the country, the group issued a statement in solidarity with protesters. Later that month, CPSA promoted a “peaceful staff action” calling for members “to stop funding Israel’s war on civilians.”

Democrats have struggled with messaging around the conflict, which has played a prominent role in a contentious presidential election year. President Joe Biden has been critical both of antisemitism on college campuses and of Netanyahu while also emphasizing Israel’s right to defend itself. 

The conflict has proved a liability for at least some of its most outspoken congressional critics. New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who has accused Israel of genocide, lost his primary this week to Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a more moderate Democrat who ran on a pro-Israel agenda and got a boost from an arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which poured millions into the race. 

Other moderate Democrats have employed a similar strategy, lashing out at the left for its criticism of Israel.

On Thursday, the House adopted an appropriations amendment, offered by Florida Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, that would block the State Department from citing Gaza Health Ministry statistics. 

The Hamas-controlled entity says more than 37,000 Palestinians in Gaza have died in Israeli military attacks since Oct. 7, 2023. Critics have said the figures are unreliable. In a speech on the House floor, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan denounced the amendment, saying, “My colleagues don’t even want to acknowledge that Palestinians exist at all, not when they’re alive, and now not even when they’re dead. … This is genocide denial.”

As lawmakers clash publicly, staffers who support a cease-fire have sought to remain anonymous, citing fears of retribution. They’ve sometimes worn masks during demonstrations, and when they send their letter urging members to boycott the Netanyahu speech, they will publish the number but not the names of those who sign.

For staffers who typically remain behind the scenes and align their personas with their bosses’, even an anonymous letter can feel like a bold statement. 

“This is not an effort to shame or undermine members of Congress … but rather an attempt to ensure these members are aware of the perspective held by the constituents and by the staffers working in their offices,” said a CPSA spokesperson.

Recent Stories

Trump rushed from stage after apparent gunshots at rally

These Democrats have called on Biden to quit the race

Gaffe track — Congressional Hits and Misses

Trump’s presidential office hours were the shortest since FDR, Biden’s not far behind him

Biden admits other Democrats could beat Trump, but sends potential rivals a message

Photos of the week ending July 12, 2024