Bernie Sanders before photo of emaciated child in Gaza

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivers a speech on June 3, 2024 explaining why he will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's expected speech before Congress.

(Photo: C-SPAN/Screengrab)

No, I Will Not Be Attending Netanyahu's Speech

These children and thousands more are the direct result of Netanyahu’s policies—Netanyahu, the man Speaker Johnson has invited to address Congress.

Editor's Note: The following are the remarks as delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday, June 3, 2024 in response to an invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver an address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Mr. President,

Yesterday, in an interview with Fox News, Speaker Mike Johnson said that I “was parroting the talking points of Hamas” and that I and others “stand with Hamas and the Ayatollah.”

That, of course, is an absolute lie. As I’ve said many times, I believe that Hamas is a terrorist organization that committed an atrocious act when it began this war by attacking Israel on October 7th, killing 1,200 innocent men, women, and children and taking more than 200 hostages, many of whom are still being held in captivity today.

Further, as I have said on numerous occasions, I think that the Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, is a war criminal and should be arrested. Now, I am not quite sure that those are the talking points that Hamas uses.

But what the Fox interview did get right is that I believe it is a very sad day for our country that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited – by leaders from both political parties – to address a joint session of the United States Congress.

Israel, of course, had the right to defend itself against the horrific Hamas terrorist attack of October 7th. But it did not, and it does not, have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people.

Mr. President, two days after the war began, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.”

“We are fighting human animals” – that’s his definition of the Palestinian people – “and we are acting accordingly.”

Mr. President, that is what the Israeli Defense Minister said, and – tragically – that is exactly what the right-wing, extremist Netanyahu government has done.

And let me put some detail into exactly what that means and whether anyone really believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu should be a guest of honor of the United States Congress and the American people.

Mr. President, over the last almost eight months, Netanyahu and his extremist government have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians and wounded over 82,000 – that is 5 percent of the population of Gaza. And 60 percent of those who have been killed or wounded are women, children, and the elderly.

Netanyahu’s war machine has driven 1.7 million people from their homes – 75 percent of the population of Gaza. And I would like the American people to think about that. Think about your community, think about your state, think about what it would mean if 75 percent – three-quarters – of your population were driven from their homes. And most of these people are poor, and they leave their homes, not knowing where they are going, with nothing but what they could carry in their hands. Think about that incredible level of desperation. Three-quarters of the population driven from their homes, carrying a few bundles of clothing or food or whatever it may be.

Further, Netanyahu’s government has damaged or destroyed over 60 percent of the housing in Gaza, leaving more than one million people permanently homeless. You know there is a lot of talk in the media and among the pundits about the “day after” the war ends. But let’s be clear: for over one million people, there is no day after in which they can return to their homes, because their homes, their housing units, have been destroyed.

And it’s not just the housing stock of Gaza that has been destroyed, Netanyahu and his government have destroyed the civilian infrastructure of Gaza, obliterated water and sewage systems, and denied electricity to the people who live there.

Defense Minister Gallant in his statement that I read a moment ago said, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity.” Well, they have kept their word. Imagine living, month after month, with no electricity or clean water, and seeing sewage run out onto the streets. That is life for the people of Gaza right now.

Mr. Netanyahu – the gentleman invited by Mr. Johnson and the Democratic leadership here – Mr. Netanyahu and his government have annihilated Gaza’s health care system. And I have talked to doctors – American doctors – who have been there, who talk about the systematic destruction of their health care system. Twenty-six hospitals have been knocked out of service, and more than 400 health care workers have been killed. Four hundred health care workers killed. In other words, there are some 80,000 wounded people in Gaza – and hundreds of thousands of people who are sick. According to the World Health Organization, as of May 5, there were hundreds of thousands of cases of acute respiratory illness and diarrhea, including 110,000 children. And yet despite all of the injuries caused by the bombings, despite all of the sickness caused by the lack of clean water, there is virtually no health care available to these people, because the health care system has been almost totally destroyed.

You know, Mr. President, there are 12 universities in Gaza, where kids are able to get an education. In fact, the people of Gaza and Palestinian areas take education very seriously. Every single one of these 12 universities has been bombed, as have 56 schools. Today, 625,000 children in Gaza have no access to education.

And I would ask the American people just to think about what is going on psychically, psychologically, to the children of Gaza. Imagine being in a place where drones are flying all over the place, maybe they’re with weapons, maybe not. Buildings have been destroyed. Your relatives have been killed. You don’t have any water, you don’t have any food, you’re driven from one place to another. What kind of permanent damage will occur to virtually every one of these children. What a horrible experience it is.

And maybe most importantly, when we think about the wisdom of Mr. Netanyahu being invited to address both houses of Congress – an honor, to address both houses of Congress and the American people – we should remember that his government, according to virtually every humanitarian organization functioning in Gaza, has blocked – intentionally blocked – humanitarian aid – that is food, water, and medical supplies – from reaching the desperate people of Gaza, which has created on top of everything else the conditions for starvation and famine.

Mr. President, I will tell you, as you probably already know, that blocking humanitarian aid and creating the conditions for famine is not only an act of extreme cruelty – using starvation as an act of war – but it is a violation of both American and international law. It is a war crime. That is what it is.

And let me say a word about what is going on in Gaza right now in terms of malnutrition.

According to the UN, since mid-January at least 30 children – 30 children – have starved to death.

More than 93,000 children under five have been screened for malnutrition; 7,280 were found to have acute malnutrition, including 5,604 with moderate acute malnutrition and 1,676 with severe acute malnutrition.

But, importantly, that is just what we know. The full reality is likely much, much worse, but Israel has prevented journalists and the media from getting into the most desperate areas in Gaza.

You know, Mr. President, as we all know, we’re in campaign season. And I would say to Speaker Johnson that when you attend your fundraising dinners with your billionaire friends, and you eat your fine steaks and your lobsters and your other wonderful food, please remember these pictures from Gaza.

This is a photograph of a child in Gaza taken by Getty.

This is a photograph of a child and his or her mother taken by Reuters. And one doubts very much whether that child is alive today.

This is a photograph taken by Al Jazeera.

And this is another photograph taken by Getty of a child who I can’t imagine is alive today.

These children and thousands more are the direct result of Netanyahu’s policies – Netanyahu, the man Speaker Johnson has invited to address Congress.

No, Mr. President, I will not be in attendance for that speech.

I yield the floor.

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