Lawmakers shouldn’t skip Netanyahu speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he didn’t mean to “disrespect” Obama by speaking to Congress without his blessing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he didn’t mean to “disrespect” Obama by speaking to Congress without his blessing. The Associated Press

House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu badly miscalculated by orchestrating Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Tuesday. The clearly political invitation has worsened frictions with the White House and further complicated an essential nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

Still, it only makes this an even bigger political spectacle to boycott the speech – as some 50 Democrats plan to do, including Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Zoe Lofgren of San Jose and Jerry McNerney of Stockton.

McNerney said in a statement 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 in her Capitol Hill office instead.

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, it is far 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 Monday: “Ultimately, this issue transcends partisan politics and that is why – despite my misgivings – I will be attending the speech.”

In his statement, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, said while he’s “extremely disappointed” by the political timing and Boehner’s invitation, it’s important for him to attend the speech “as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and given the sensitive situation in the Middle East.”

All the 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 is what is in the best interests of America, Israel and Middle East stability.

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 declared Monday that he has a “moral obligation” to warn against an agreement that doesn’t do enough to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, it appears he realizes he could have more effectively voiced his concerns. In his speech to AIPAC, he made clear that 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 in his address to Congress. It’s too bad that some lawmakers won’t be there to hear and judge him.