House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu badly miscalculated by orchestrating Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today. The clearly political invitation has worsened frictions with the White House and further complicated an essential nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
Still, it only creates an even bigger political spectacle to boycott the speech – as some 40 Democrats plan to do, including Rep. Jerry McNerney, whose district wraps around Escalon and reaches into Riverbank, and Barbara Lee of Oakland, and Zoe Lofgren of San Jose.
McNerney said in Monday that while he’s a strong supporter of Israel’s security, it was “wrong” for the invitation to be made without consulting the White House or Democratic leaders and that the speech could disrupt delicate negotiations.
Lofgren posted to her Facebook page that Boehner “irresponsibly” interjected politics into U.S.-Israel relations and that “Congress should not be used as a prop in Israeli election campaigns,” so she intends to watch the speech from office.
They have a point. It’s unseemly for Netanyahu to speak to Congress a scant two weeks before Israel’s election, and it was clumsy of Boehner to violate protocol and seek political advantage with pro-Israel voters.
Yet, Netanyahu is the leader of a key ally, and he has a point of view on a significant national security issue. Rather than stage a symbolic protest, or pout, it is more constructive to listen respectfully, then debate – even criticize – what he says. That’s how best to represent your constituents.
We agree with Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, who said in a statement: “Ultimately, this issue transcends partisan politics and that is why – despite my misgivings – I will be attending the speech.”
These political theatrics are a distraction from what ought to be everyone’s goal – a strong and verifiable agreement with Iran that prevents that nation from gaining nuclear weapons and that forestalls the need for military action. That’s America’s best interests and in the best interests of Israel and the entire Middle East.
The White House sent Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to reinforce that message Monday to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, just before Netanyahu spoke to the same group. “If diplomacy fails, we know the stakes of a nuclear-armed Iran as well as everyone here,” she said. “We will not let it happen. There will never be a sunset on America’s commitment to Israel’s security. Never.”
While Netanyahu said Monday he has a “moral obligation” to warn against an agreement that doesn’t prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, it appears he realizes he could have more effectively voiced his concerns. In speaking to AIPAC, he made clear he didn’t mean to “disrespect” President Barack Obama and that America and Israel will “weather this current disagreement.”
He’ll likely make many of the same points to Congress. We would prefer that all our lawmakers are there to hear it.