Insider says Obama administration ‘sent a message’ to black Democratic lawmakers that they should skip Netanyahu speech to Congress, as Biden says he’ll be a no-show
- Congressional Black Caucus chairman G.K. Butterfield and civil rights icon John Lewis, both federal lawmakers, will bail on the Israeli PM’s speech
- They insist there’s no organized boycott but a White House staffer says the administration ‘sent a message to some at the CBC that they should suddenly be very upset about the speech’
- Lewis said House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was ‘an affront to the president,’ but his spokeswoman sidestepped questions
- Butterfield said the speaker overstepped his authority and ‘buck(ed) long standing diplomatic protocol’
- The CBC’s spokeswoman would only say she was ‘unaware’ of boycott requests coming from the White House
- Vice President Joe Biden will definitely be out of the country on March 3 and has no plans to stay in Washington for Netanyahu’s historic address
The final numbers are not yet in, but it seems clear that the White House-orchestrated campaign to boycott Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is collapsing.
Despite two weeks of intense anti-Netanyahu leaks, insults, and pressure, the White House has so far succeeded in persuading only a handful of Democratic members of Congress to stay away from the speech.
A grand total of two Senators and twelve Representatives have publicly announced that they are boycotting Israel’s prime minister. Assuming that those figures change only marginally in the days ahead, it will mean that 98% of the Senate and 95% of the House of Representatives will be in attendance.
Even the most vocal critics of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are not united against the Israeli leader. Emerging from a meeting with President Obama last week, Caucus chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield told reporters, that the subject of Netanyahu’s speech “didn’t come up” during their 90-minute meeting with the president. But he then proceeded to chastise Israel’s prime minister for supposedly being “disrespectful” to the president, and Congressman Hank Johnson said it was “about President Barack Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader.”
But not all the African-American congress members joined the anti-Netanyahu chorus. U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), who is the only senator in the Congressional Black Caucus, refused to toe the line. The Politico reports that when his colleagues began lambasting Prime Minister Netanyahu, reporters asked Booker where he stood, and he pointedly dissented, saying “I’ve been asked that a number of times–I’m not commenting.”
Knowing of Senator Booker’s longtime support for Israel and close relationship with many American Jewish leaders, we find it difficult that he will go along with an insulting and disrespectful boycott of Israel’s prime minister.
Another major crack in the anti-Netanyahu boycott effort appeared this weekend in the form of a message from Elie Wiesel in a full page advertisement in the New York Times and Washington Post, sponsored by “This World: The Values Network.”
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has always been something of a moral compass for the Jewish people–certainly far more than the two or three Jewish organizational leaders who have been quoted as opposing Netanyahu’s visit. We all remember Wiesel bravely confronting President Reagan over his visit to the Bitburg cemetery, not to mention his speaking out on so many other important issues over the years. So Wiesel’s words in the Times and Post ads carry particular weight.
Wiesel announced that he will personally attend Netanyahu’s speech. He appealed to President Obama and Vice President Biden to “put aside the politics” and hear what Israel’s prime minister has to say. He pointed out that Netanyahu will speak to Congress the day before Purim–the day when, in ancient times, “a wicked man in Persia named Haman” sought to destroy the Jews…”Now Iran, modern Persia, has produced a new enemy,” Wiesel wrote. “The Ayatollah Khomeini has been as clear as his predecessor in declaring his goal: ‘the annihilation and destruction’ of Israel. He is bent on acquiring the weapons needed to make good on the deadly promise.”
Finally, it’s worth mentioning another crack that appeared in the boycott effort this week. The pro-Palestinian lobbying group J Street, which has been the engine driving the boycott movement, has been circulating a poll claiming that 84% of American Jews support President Obama’s position on Iran.
But now the fraudulent methods used to elicit that 84% number have been exposed. It turns out that the respondents were not asked about the actual terms that Obama is negotiating with Iran. They were asked whether they would support an imaginary agreement under which Iran would completely and permanently give up its capability to produce nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, that is not at all what President Obama is insisting upon, according to numerous news reports.
A genuinely objective poll, which asked American Jews whether they want the U.S. to insist that Iran be permanently prevented from having the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, would surely find the vast majority of Jews in favor.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu appears next month before Congress, with the overwhelming majority of Congress members from both parties in attendance, he will explain the truth about the Iranian threat and the danger of the U.S. agreeing to weak and unenforceable terms.
And that, of course, is what the Obama Administration, J Street, and the other Netanyahu-bashers most wish to prevent.
The audience for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3 is shaping up to be largely Republican — and almost completely white.
Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus say they’re planning to skip the speech, calling it a slight to President Barack Obama that they can’t and won’t support.
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Israeli officials have been taken by surprise by the CBC backlash, kicked off by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights leader who said last week he won’t attend, quickly followed by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and others. As a result, they’re working to set up a meeting for CBC members with Ambassador Ron Dermer — or even Netanyahu himself when he’s in Washington.
“To me, it is somewhat of an insult to the president of the United States,” said Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), leaving the White House on Tuesday after a long meeting with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who also will miss the speech. “Barack Obama is my president. He’s the nation’s president, and it is clear, therefore, that I’m not going to be there, as a result of that, not as a result of the good people of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, scheduled just two weeks before Israeli national elections, is aimed at stopping a deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons program — a diplomatic opening Obama administration officials believe could reintegrate Iran into the international community and enhance Israel’s security. Netanyahu, however, feels the United States and its international partners are being naive about Iran’s true intent.
“I’m determined to speak before Congress to stop Iran,” Netanyahu tweeted on Tuesday.
Democrats across Capitol Hill have been increasingly vocal about their opposition to the speech, criticizing the prime minister and House Speaker John Boehner for making them choose between their support for their president and support for Israel. Announcements that Democrats plan to sit out the speech have trickled in for days.
But the CBC reaction has been particularly potent, striking at the political alliance between Jews and African-Americans that dates to the civil rights movement but has grown more fraught over the years.
Often Obama’s strongest defenders against political attacks, black members say they’re outraged that a foreign leader would try to intervene in the U.S. political process.
“It’s not just about disrespect for the president, it’s disrespect for the American people and our system of government for a foreign leader to insert himself into a issue that our policymakers are grappling with,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “It’s not simply about President Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader. It’s deeper than that.”
CBC chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told reporters that the speech didn’t come up as a topic in the 90 minutes they spent with Obama in the Cabinet Room. But he, like Meeks, Johnson and many of his members, is not planning to go to Netanyahu’s speech.
Butterfield said the black caucus is in “conversation” with Israeli officials to set up a meeting with either Netanyahu or the ambassador, who has met with several black members of Congress as part of his efforts to calm the furor.
“CBC members are willing certainty to meet with any representative of Israel. We understand Israel’s plight, and we support the state of Israel,” Butterfield said.
The CBC leader said Boehner is as much or more responsible for the slight as is the Israeli leader.
“I don’t hold Netanyahu responsible,” Butterfield said. “I hold Speaker Boehner responsible, but I would hope that Mr. Netanyahu would not want to get involved. I personally think it is disrespectful.”
That was a word many members used: “It is very disrespectful to this president, and what concerns me more is that I think it’s a pattern that is starting to develop from this speaker that we’re getting more and more disrespectful of the office of the presidency,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.). “I think it’s silly and petty.”
Asked whether CBC members see the speech as an insult, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) said, “I think they kind of think it is.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the CBC’s only member in the upper chamber, hasn’t ruled out attending, but he won’t commit to going either.
“I’ve been asked that a number of times — I’m not commenting,” he said before slipping out the White House gates and onto a waiting bus to take him back to the Capitol.
The spokesman for the Israeli Embassy had no comment about the breakdown with the CBC over the speech. But a spokesman for Boehner defended the speaker’s decision to invite the Israeli leader: “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming visit isn’t about Speaker Boehner, and it’s not about President Obama,” spokesman Cory Fritz said. “At this critical moment it’s important that the American people hear from Israel about the grave threats posed by Iran and Islamic radicalism.”
Though many CBC members are boycotting, for now they’ve decided not to make it an official caucus position.
“There are a number of members who aren’t going to attend, but they don’t want to make it sound like a group decision,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
CBC members Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) have also announced they’re skipping the speech. Fellow CBC member Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) co-signed a letter Tuesday to Boehner with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), calling for the speech to be postponed.
“The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit,” they wrote. “When the Israeli prime minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the floor of the House.”
The idea of meeting with Dermer or Netanyahu separately doesn’t seem to be catching on with CBC members, either. Noting that Dermer once worked for Republican pollster Frank Luntz, Johnson called the ambassador a “longtime, right-wing political hack” and said he is uninterested in meeting with either him or Netanyahu.
“I don’t think I would be willing to come to such a meeting,” Johnson said. “Not at that time, and under this condition, no.”
From these stories and many others, I get the idea that there would be a political debate on where to go to lunch, much less doing the right thing for one of our best allies. Can you guys agree on anything?
It would seem that one of the things that these law makers agree on is race.
As an American I am ashamed of you who belittle an event like this because you were either told by the white house to do it, or you have taken it upon yourself to show your ass instead of your duty to those that elected you. I cannot help but wonder why the Republicans enjoyed such overwhelming support by the American voter this last time around.
You folks are childish in your actions and are woefully out of touch with us, the people who vote. We the people that pay your ridiculous salaries and we, the folks that stand by and watch while you rape the American people by way of creating laws that don’t apply to you, or laws that exclude the American people.
We the people want you to be there for our friend in Israel. Making deals with terrorist is stupid and even the school kids know this, what the hell are you thinking? Get a damned back bone and do what is right for the American people and stop your childish behavior, it is absolutely offensive and disgusting.