At the invitation of the House Republican leadership, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress today. His goal is simple: the Israeli leader, in the midst of his own re-election campaign, hopes to derail international diplomatic talks with Iran.
Quite a few congressional Democrats, who have no interest in bolstering Netanyahu’s goals, have decided to make other plans today.
[T]he impending speech has further strained already-tense relations between the White House and House Republicans. And now, dozens of Democrats – including 2016 hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, according to a scoop by The Boston Globe – have announced that they will not be attending Netanyahu’s speech.
Estimates vary on exactly how many Dems intend to skip Netanyahu’s address – NBC News puts the total at 47 members (39 in the House, 8 in the Senate), while The Hill’s tally shows 55 members (47 in the House, 8 in the Senate) – but the fact remains that what was a small contingent has obviously grown considerably in recent weeks.
What’s more, the totals don’t include Vice President Biden, who will also not attend, and President Obama, who said he will not meet personally with the prime minister during his D.C. visit.
The entire incident, as has been well documented, has put an ugly and unnecessary strain on U.S./Israeli relations, and cut across some of the predictable lines: on the one hand, there are some Democrats who will welcome Netanyahu, while on the other, many notable Israeli leaders, including former members of Netanyahu’s own cabinet, have criticized the speech and urged the prime minister to cancel.
Jeffrey Goldberg added last week, “For decades, it has been a cardinal principle of Israeli security and foreign-policy doctrine that its leaders must cultivate bipartisan support in the United States, and therefore avoid even the appearance of favoritism. This is the official position of the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, AIPAC, as well, which is why its leaders are privately fuming about Netanyahu’s end-run around the White House. Even though AIPAC’s leadership leans right, the organization knows that support for Israel in America must be bipartisan in order for it to be stable.”
Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are putting all of this at risk, and it comes to a head on Capitol Hill later this morning.
For those late to the story, what’s unfolded over the last six weeks has, by some measures, been a genuine political scandal. Boehner and Netanyahu deliberately circumvented the White House, forging a partnership to derail the multi-party nuclear talks with Tehran. As part of the deal, the Israeli prime minister is receiving an opportunity never before offered in American history: a foreign head of state, at the invitation of Congress, will deliver remarks to a joint session of Congress to condemn American foreign policy.
Netanyahu joined the partnership because it will advance his interests: shortly before his own re-election campaign in Israel, Americans are giving him an august platform, where he’ll blast diplomatic efforts he hopes to sabotage. Boehner, meanwhile, gets to poke President Obama in the eye and pretend to play foreign policy. If that means a secret deal with a foreign government in violation of U.S. protocols, so be it – the GOP leadership clearly doesn’t care.
Independent polls show the American mainstream is not pleased with this gambit, and for good reason: it’s dangerous. The risk to U.S./Israeli relations is real, and the notion that Republicans want the world to know that our nation’s foreign policy can be split from within sends a radical signal with no precedent in the American tradition.
The prime minister’s speech is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Eastern. It will be, by most measures, the most controversial joint-session speech in U.S. history.