Democrats Consider Boycott Of Netanyahu Speech To Congress

Some Congressional Democrats are considering skipping a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a Joint Session Of Congress.

U.S. Israeli Flags

There seems to be a growing movement on the part of some groups to persuade Democratic Members of Congress to skip the speech that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu will be giving to a Joint Session of Congress early next month:

Vice President Joe Biden won’t commit to attending Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress next month.

He’s not the only one.

Dozens of House Democrats are privately threatening to skip the March 3 address, according to lawmakers and aides, in what’s become the lowest point of a relationship between the Israeli prime minister and President Barack Obama that’s never been good.

Democrats have had to balance publicly supporting Israel with backing Obama, who’s trying to close a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear programs over vehement opposition from Netanyahu, who has expressed concerns that the U.S. president is being naive. Negotiations are facing a deadline at the end of March for a political framework.

The speech was devised by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to provide Netanyahu a prominent Washington platform to warn about the dangers of the proposed deal with Iran. But it also appeared to be based on an Israeli perception that Obama was weakened after midterm elections gave control of both houses of Congress to Republicans, and timed to take place just two weeks before Netanyahu faces reelection on March 17 — and footage of American officials applauding him couldn’t hurt his prospects.

But that reading of Obama seems not to have been updated since November, when Obama’s own poll numbers started moving up again, and — though Netanyahu’s Likud Party is still leading in Israeli polls — miscalculated the backlash in Israel from putting his relationship with the American president on the line.

Netanyahu’s already been denied an Oval Office meeting with Obama. Secretary of State John Kerry has no plans to meet with him while he’s in town, a State Department official told POLITICO on Tuesday.
(…)

The president and his aides won’t tell Democrats to skip the speech. But they aren’t telling Democrats to go, either.

“We defer to Democratic members if they’d like to attend or not,” a White House aide said Tuesday.

Biden’s office wouldn’t comment on the decision-making process about attending the speech. As president of the Senate, he usually takes a seat beside Boehner on the podium behind the lectern for addresses by foreign leaders.

Though some may abandon the threat, as of Tuesday, many Democrats on the Hill — including several Jewish members — said they’re likely to leave the prime minister looking at some empty seats.

At the same time, other Democrats seem likely to attend the speech even as they are critical of Boehner for scheduling it:

Not all Democrats are backing away from the speech. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who last week criticized Boehner for inviting Netanyahu without first informing the White House, would go, said her spokesman Drew Hammill — though he hedged, holding out the possibility that the speech may yet be canceled.

“The leader attends every joint meeting and, of course, will attend should this speech take place,” Hammill said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he’ll attend. Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also said he’ll be there.

“Frankly, the strong U.S.-Israel relationship, bipartisan relationship through the years, is stronger than any perceived slight or dispute,” Engel said. “I care about the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has always been bipartisan and will continue to be.”

To some degree, of course, Democrats need to proceed carefully here because a full-on boycott of Netanyahu’s speech risks alienating an important constituency group in the Democratic Party, although it’s admittedly true that it’s unlikely that Jewish-Americans are going to start voting Republican any time soon. Indeed, it seems as though conservative religious Republicans are more emphatic in their support of Israel in general, and the right wing policies of Netanyahu’s government in particular, than Jewish-Americans in general tend to be, or at least that they are less willing to entertain dissent from the idea that Israel is “our most important ally” and that we ought to be doing whatever it is that Netanyahu and his political supporters in Israel want us to do vis a vis Iran, the Palestinians, or the Middle East in general. The reality, of course, is that while the United States and Israel have many common interests we also have areas where our interests do not necessarily converge, and one of those areas is the question of how to approach the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Prime Minister Netanyahu has long adhered to the idea that a nuclear Iran would be an existential threat to Israel notwithstanding Israel’s clear military superiority. Because of this, he has essentially taken the position that negotiations are not going to work and has been lobbying for war for several years now. No doubt, the Obama Administration’s decision to continue with negotiations is a large cause of the tensions between him and President Obama.

As for this upcoming speech, as  noted last week, it seems clear that the Republicans in Congress and Prime Minister Netanyahu are engaging in actions that are designed to unduly politicize the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. It’s unfortunate that Democrats are considering boycotting the speech, but it’s also understandable under the circumstances given the fact that the only purpose for the speech will be to give Netanyhu, who is running for re-election, a political boost back home by allowing him to criticize the President of the United States from the floor of the House. That’s inappropriate and it would be best of Boehner rescheduled the speech until some time after the Israeli elections.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Good. They need to. As far as the Jewish-American vote, I think they’ll understand.

  2. Gustopher says:

    Politicizing American-Israeli relations will, in the end, do basically nothing bad to us, but may well prove very bad for the Isrealis. If anyone is going to boycott Netanyahu’s speech, it should probably be Netanyahu.

    Isreal is not “our most important ally” — we are their most important ally. And, it’s about time that they started realizing it.

  3. Like I said, except for that small portion of the ultra Orthodox who seem to be very Republican most Jewish Americans are not going to start voting for the GOP over an issue like this.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    It’s a political event put on by the RNC…why should Democrats attend???

  5. anjin-san says:

    Good. Netanyahu has chosen to ally himself specifically with the Republican Party, not with America as a whole. There should absolutely be a steep political price to pay.

    As Gustopher pointed out, they need us far more than we need them.

  6. the Q says:

    So let me get this straight, 1.2% of the Dem electorate MAY switch and vote Republican? And most live in NYC or the LA area, two comfortably blue states, so how exactly is this a huge threat to the Dems?

    The Hollywood/SF crowd is much more interested in Dems stopping theft of intellectual property via vigorous trade pact accords than settlements on the west bank.

  7. Pinky says:

    This would be a really ugly move on the Democrats’ part. I hope they don’t go through with it.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    This would be a really ugly move on the Democrats’ part.

    Yes, of course, because the original move by Netanyahu and Boehner is just so very pretty…

  9. Rob Miller says:

    @anjin-san: Sheer BS. Even the NYT admits Obama set this entire fracas up deliberately.

    http://joshuapundit.blogspot.com/2015/02/breaking-nyt-admits-obama-deliberately.html

  10. michael reynolds says:

    This won’t move the Jewish vote by a point, and as Q writes above, the net effect on electoral votes would be nil.

    The political danger is in donor money. But we got bigger fish to fry than trying to cover the ass of a recalcitrant, serially dishonest, contemptuous, thuggish Likudnik.

    I think we may be overlooking an important point: we are not Israelis. We are Americans. If there’s a pissing match between our president, the President of the United States, and a foreign leader, we stand with our president. Anyone who thinks differently on that point is walking pretty close to some very ugly insinuations.

    And an additional point I’d like to make to those on the religious right who have embraced what they see as the cause of Israel: We’re the Jews. Do you honestly think we’re falling for your act? Do you think we’ve somehow overlooked your millennial madness, your sick notions that come the end of the world you’ll be warming your hands over Jews burning in hell? We are the world champions of political paranoia. We have a lot of experience looking at motives. You guys aren’t subtle.

    And the fact that Netanyahu and Likud are so tone deaf, and so fundamentally stupid that they presume to put American Jews in this position is just one more reason that I suspect the vast majority of us would tell Bibi Netanyahu to f-ck himself. Barack Obama is President.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Sheer BS. Even the NYT admits Obama set this entire fracas up deliberately.

    The person who wrote the above wrote the following at his link…

    This president wants very much to curtail America’s alliance with Israel.

    Now why, pray tell, does the president supposedly want to do that…

  12. anjin-san says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Now why, pray tell, does the president supposedly want to do that…

    Don’t you know about Barack Obama’s Sekret Muslim Band?

    ♬ It was twenty years ago today,
    Barack Obama found the Muslim way… ♫ ♪

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Pinky: Go through with what? Contra the headline, “Dozens of House Democrats are privately threatening to skip…” and, “We defer to Democratic members if they’d like to attend or not,” does not constitute a boycott.

  14. Barry says:

    Doug: “As for this upcoming speech, as noted last week, it seems clear that the Republicans in Congress and Prime Minister Netanyahu are engaging in actions that are designed to unduly politicize the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. ”

    I’m sorry, but did you somehow think that this relationship was not political?

  15. bill says:

    @anjin-san: well the democrats don’t seem to care much for Israel so why not? and we do need them, they fight a proxy war for us and are our only reliable ally in the region.some media wonk was saying this could “embolden” their enemies- like they can really get worse?

  16. Pinky says:

    @gVOR08: Well, I guess I’m glad I didn’t use the word “boycott” then.

  17. Davebo says:

    @Pinky:

    Ugly move? How so?

    I’m sure no one is surprised that you find nothing wrong with a foreign leader criticizing your president on the floor of congress but I’m at a loss as to why you think members of his party not willingly going along is somehow ugly.

  18. anjin-san says:

    @bill:

    well the democrats don’t seem to care much for Israel Netanyahu.

    FTFY

    Some of think America’s foreign policy should be crafted in Washington DC, not Tel Aviv.

  19. Rob Prather says:

    Boehner and Bibi have made a mistake here. It will not benefit Israel if Israeli policy becomes a partisan issue.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @Pinky: I’m glad you agree this isn’t a boycott. So what “ugly move” is it you think Democrats shouldn’t “go through with”? Failing to attend a meeting at which no business will be conducted? Please be specific, because I’m failing to see what you’re objecting to.

  21. bookdragon says:

    Could we please stop confusing support for Israel with support for Bibi?

    As Americans we ought to be able to distinguish between support for a politician, even an important one, and support for the country they represent.

  22. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:
    If Democrats in Congress had invited Chirac to speak to a joint session criticizing Bush’s mid-East policy in 2002, would it have been “a really ugly move” for Republicans not to attend?

  23. Stan says:

    Every poll I’ve seen shows that President Obama is significantly more popular with Jews than with the general public. Most American Jews are liberal and so is Obama; most notice a president’s advisors, and in Obama’s case the list includes Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod, Larry Summers, and Jacob Lew, among others; and most American Jews support Obama’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, which I take to be support for Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself, but opposition to the Likkud policy on settlements in the West Bank. I’ve exchanged emails with members of my family on this, all of them Jewish and most of them long time supporters of Israel, and I see nothing but contempt toward Netanyahu and Ambassador Dermer, a view that I share. So if Obama loses support by Jews on this issue, I’ll be astonished.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    well the democrats don’t seem to care much for Israel so why not?

    Horse$hit…there’s absolutely no proof to substantiate that ridiculous claim…

    and we do need them, they fight a proxy war for us and are our only reliable ally in the region.

    Oh that “we have to fight them there so we don’t fight them here” line…gobbling up land from the Palestinians is hardly fighting a proxy war for us…

  25. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:

    well the democrats don’t seem to care much for Israel so why not?

    Netanyahoo is running for office. This is a political stunt.
    It has nothing to do with support for Israel, one way or another.

  26. al-Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Like I said, except for that small portion of the ultra Orthodox who seem to be very Republican most Jewish Americans are not going to start voting for the GOP over an issue like this.

    Succinct and dead on point, Doug.

    Most people recognize this “visit” and speech for what it is, a partisan political stunt by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Republican Party.

  27. Kylopod says:

    @Stan:

    Every poll I’ve seen shows that President Obama is significantly more popular with Jews than with the general public.

    This is correct, but in a very trivial sense. It’s kind of the flip side of Jennifer Rubin’s awful 2010 article, “Why Jews hate Palin.” There was never any evidence that Jewish Democrats hated Palin any more than non-Jewish Democrats did. It’s just that most Jews are Democrats, and since most Democrats hate Palin (or more accurately, view Palin as an unqualified joke), it’s not surprising that most Jews do as well.

    It’s the same with Obama. Jews are the second most reliably Democratic ethnic voting bloc in the country, right after blacks (though Latinos are starting to catch up). Jews have supported by overwhelming margins every Democratic nominee since 1984. (Yes, even in the year of Reagan’s 49-state landslide, more than two-thirds of Jewish voters backed Mondale.) Obama’s support from Jews isn’t especially noteworthy for a Democratic president. He received 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008, roughly the same as Clinton and Gore. In 2012, it had dropped to 69%. Throughout that election cycle, I pooh-poohed the idea that stuff like Obama’s “1967 borders” remark would drive Jews away from Obama en masse. I was right, of course, but still, I do think some of the right-wing propaganda had an effect on a small percentage of Jews. In my experience, there are some Jews who lean Democrat but who adopt a right-wing frame when it comes to Israel, and who are in principle capable of being swayed by nonsense such as this. The late Ed Koch was an example; I have a feeling he’d take the GOP side on this stunt if he were alive today. But the notion that it will have the remotest of electoral effects is pure delusion. The effect is also counterbalanced, to some degree, by the GOP’s tone-deaf decisions such as this one which make even conservative Jews squirm.

  28. anjin-san says:

    Looks like someone is starting to worry about damage control:

    Israeli Official Suggests Boehner Misled Netanyahu

    “A senior Israeli official suggested on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been misled into thinking an invitation to address the U.S. Congress on Iran next month was fully supported by the Democrats,” Reuters reports.

    “Netanyahu was invited by the Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner, to address Congress on March 3, an invitation Boehner originally described as bipartisan. The move angered the White House, which is upset about the event coming two weeks before Israeli elections and the fact that Netanyahu, who has a testy relationship with President Obama, is expected to be critical of U.S. policy on Iran.”

    http://politicalwire.com/2015/02/06/israeli-official-suggests-boehner-misled-netanyahu/

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @anjin-san: Thank you. I needed a good laugh this afternoon. Smells like it was Netanyahu’s idea, but if he’s able to throw Boehner under the bus, I’m good with that.

  30. CET says:

    @Grewgills:

    I think it is reasonable to guess that if the situations had been reversed in 2002-2003, neo-cons would have blown a gasket over the issue.

    Having said that, the closest example I can think of is this:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/washington/07cnd-sarkozy.html

    While (AFAIK) there was no boycott (or whatever we’re calling it now), I think it was also a much less hostile event. I can’t think of a directly comparable example where a political party has invited a foreign leader to oppose significant elements WH foreign policy in front of congress. I’m not wild about the precedent here, to say the least.