Senate Republicans on Thursday moved to officially welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. ahead of his planned speech to Congress next month, the latest development in a saga that has roiled politics in both countries. Almost all GOP senators were listed as co-sponsors of a resolution by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) saying the Senate "eagerly awaits the address of Prime Minister Netanyahu before a joint session of the United States Congress" and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to standby Israel in "times of uncertainty." "During this time of such great instability and danger in the Middle East, the United States should be unequivocal about our commitment to one of our closest and most important allies," Mr. Cornyn said in a statement.
If congressional Republican wanted to make the ongoing controversy surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu even more of a partisan food fight, this is clearly the way to do exactly that.
If Cornyn is expecting unanimous support for his resolution, he's likely to be disappointed. As of last night, 22 congressional Democrats -- 19 in the House and three in the Senate -- have announced they will not attend the Israeli prime minister's scheduled speech on March 3, and that number continues to steadily grow.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), meanwhile, argued yesterday Democrats will send an unwelcome signal to "the terrorists in all parts of the world" if they stay away from Netanyahu's speech, adding just a little toxicity to an already depressing debate. (It's been a while since the far-right rolled out a "if Democrats do _____ the terrorists win" argument, but some demagoguery apparently never goes out of style.)
I've seen some suggestions this week that Netanyahu, as the Israeli prime minister, is somehow a de facto spokesperson for Jewish people everywhere, so to question the unhealthy and unprecedented Netanyahu/GOP partnership is to snub all Jews. The argument is plainly silly -- President Obama has received more votes from Jewish voters than Netanyahu has -- and it's of interest that several of the prominent congressional Democrats who've announced they'll skip the event are themselves Jewish.
That includes, by the way, an eloquent statement from Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who is Jewish, and who announced yesterday that he will not attend the joint-session speech. What's more, of the three U.S. senators who've balked at the GOP/Netanyahu scheme, two are Jewish.
Also this week, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told msnbc's Andrea Mitchell that Netanyahu "is interfering in our internal affairs" in inappropriate way.
The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus are urging House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to reconsider his plan, but by all appearances, GOP leaders care as much as about Democratic concerns as they do for U.S. protocol -- which is to say, not at all.
As for the event itself, J Street's Dylan Williams said this week that Capitol Hill staffers will reportedly sit in seats left empty by Democrats "to ensure good visuals" and "standing ovations."