If any doubt remains that Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on March 3 represents a coordinated attack on President Obama by the right-wing noise machine, let Israel’s consul general in Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman, put it to rest.
[Sideman] said the primary supporters of Netanyahu’s speech are groups identified with the most conservative side of the U.S. political map, like the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Zionist Organization of America and Christian evangelical leaders. “It is our impression that these people’s support for the speech stems from their identification with, and admiration for, a move to defy and humiliate President Obama, more than from the importance they attribute to the Iranian issue, which should be the center of the speech,” he wrote. [my emphasis]
Politico reports that the “consensus among Democrats in Washington” is that Israeli Ambassador Dermer and Netanyahu “have to cancel or reschedule the speech.” Politico says that dozens of Democrats are threatening a boycott if the speech if it is not cancelled, that seven Jewish Democrats explicitly threatened the Israeli ambassador that they would boycott and that Vice-President Biden, who would normally attend such a speech in his role as president of the Senate, may join the boycott.
AP reports that Rep. John Lewis and CBC chair G.K. Butterfield will not attend the speech:
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said they won’t attend Netanyahu’s March 3 speech.
“I think it’s an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did,” by not consulting the White House, Lewis said in an interview.
Butterfield said he was “very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” among members of Congress. He called the speaker’s actions “unprecedented.”
Butterfield also criticized Netanyahu, saying that by accepting Boehner’s invitation without talking to President Barack Obama, the prime minister had “politicized” his visit to the United States.
Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer has written that if the speech is not cancelled, he will not attend:
If [Boehner] does not [cancel the speech], I will refuse to be part of a reckless act of political grandstanding… Wait until Israelis have cast their ballots, and find out if the time on the clock for negotiations runs out. I will not participate in a calculated slight from the speaker and the House leadership to attack necessary diplomacy. When nuclear security and Middle East stability hang in the balance, no member who cares about peace and Israel should participate in this effort to undercut our president.
California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman wrote:
…the timing and context of the speech smacks of political opportunism: an attempt to undermine the President in the middle of delicate nuclear negotiations with Iran, while inappropriately projecting political support for Mr. Netanyahu in the middle of Israel’s election…
I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress.”
California Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal is reportedly “torn” over attending:
“I always respect the right of a president of a nation to come before us, but I think the time is totally inappropriate, just before the Israeli election. …” Lowenthal said in an interview. “It’s a deliberate attempt to try to influence the Israeli election and done right after the State of the Union address in which the president said foreign policy is getting better, and Mr. Boehner wants to demonstrate that things are not getting better.”
Reps. Keith Ellison, Steve Cohen and Maxine Waters are circulating a letter calling for the speech to be postponed – the only public, coordinated, on the record Congressional initiative so far to cancel or reschedule the speech. If you want your representative to sign the Ellison letter, you can tell them so via the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can report your call here. If you absolutely can’t get to a phone, you can take action here.