STATEMENT: Why I will not be attending Israeli PM Netanyahu's speech to CongressThursday February 12, 2015
As a Jewish member of Congress, and as someone who proudly supports the State of Israel, I am saddened by the breakdown of the traditionally bipartisan cooperation on issues affecting that nation, precipitated by the impending speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Congress on March 3.
The controversy surrounding the invitation to the Prime Minister and his acceptance has unfortunately made the question of attendance at the speech a matter of public interest. It is both sad and ridiculous that attending this speech will be used as a litmus test for support of Israel. In short, roll will be taken, and some outside organizations have even threatened potential absentees with electoral repercussions. Since I do not plan to attend the Prime Minister’s appearance, I now find it necessary to publicly explain my intended absence.
Among the many reasons I will not attend are the following:
We know what he is going to say. Netanyahu’s position on the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program is not a secret. Like many other members, I have been visited by the Israeli ambassador and understand what they want and how that differs from what U.S. negotiators are attempting to accomplish.
The Prime Minister has plenty of other places to express his opinions. In fact he has done so many times.
Netanyahu will specifically be arguing against the foreign policy of the administration. Speaker Boehner invited the Prime Minister to address Congress specifically to refute President Obama’s position. I will not contribute to the impression that this body does not support the President of the United States in foreign affairs.
The speech is scheduled less than two weeks before Israeli elections and there is a demonstrable risk that Netanyahu will use the perception of congressional support in his campaign. He did it before. A television ad for his 2013 campaign begins with a shot of the U.S. Capitol, and has footage of rousing applause from members. (House ethics rules prohibit members of Congress from using such footage in political ads.)
It will become a matter of score-keeping as to who stands up and applauds and who doesn't. Having visited Israel only months after Netanyahu addressed Congress in 2011, I know how much political impact these scenes have in that country. There is pressure to join the applause even if a member does not agree with statements made.
Congress has a broader responsibility than the security interests of Israel. While it certainly is important that we understand the Israeli perspective, the American people will hear only Netanyahu’s perspective, creating a public perception that could undermine a broadly supported resolution to the Iranian nuclear situation.
The Prime Minister’s appearance will be construed by many to infer congressional support for his position as opposed to US policy.
I do not want my respectful attendance to in any way imply support for his position.
Finally, the speech comes at a delicate period in the negotiations with Iran, coming only three weeks before the deadline established for an agreement on a framework for a program to ensure that Iran does not have the capability to build a nuclear weapon.
I sympathize with the Israeli predicament in this situation. They are forced to sit by while six other nations negotiate an agreement that directly affects their national security. They do not have a seat at the table. On the other hand, the only way a potential Iranian nuclear threat can be averted peacefully is if the world powers use the crippling economic sanctions to force a diplomatic solution. All of those countries have an interest in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position, if adopted by the United States and the other negotiating parties, would make a diplomatic resolution much more difficult, if not impossible.