JPost.com — Feb 7, 2015
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies on the political Right in the United States said they plan to publicly castigate any Democratic representative who skips the premier’s scheduled speech next month before a joint session of Congress.
As reported Friday by the online newsmagazine Politico, the prime minister’s Jewish conservative backers in the United States say they will be “taking attendance” of delegates during Netanyahu’s remarks.
Democrats angry about the premier’s speech – which was orchestrated by House Speaker John Boehner and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, without the knowledge of the White House and State Department – were reportedly toying with the idea of not attending as a show of protest.
A senior Israeli official suggested on Friday that Netanyahu had been misled into thinking an invitation to address the US Congress on Iran next month was fully supported by the Democrats.
Netanyahu was invited by Boehner to address Congress on March 3, an invitation Boehner originally described as bipartisan.
The move angered the White House, which is upset about the event coming two weeks before Israeli elections and the fact that Netanyahu, who has a testy relationship with President Obama, is expected to be critical of US policy on Iran.
“It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move, in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one sided move and not a move by both sides,” Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told 102 FM Tel Aviv Radio on Friday.
The interviewer asked if that meant Netanyahu had been “misled” into believing Boehner’s invitation was bipartisan, a characterization Hanegbi did not contest.
Asked whether the prime minister should cancel or postpone the speech, Hanegbi said: “What would the outcome be then? The outcome would be that we forsake an arena in which there is a going to be a very dramatic decision (on Iran).”
In its Friday report, Politico quoted Netanyahu allies on the political right who said that they would call out any Democratic lawmaker who fails to show for the prime minister’s speech.
“This is, I think a critical visit by the prime minister,” Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told Politico. “If these Democrats would rather put partisan politics ahead of principle and walk out on the prime minister of Israel, then we have an obligation to make that known.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition is backed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Netanyahu benefactor and key GOP donor.
Brooks’ remarks implicitly suggest that Adelson would devote some of his massive resources to publicly highlight which Democratic lawmakers do not turn up for Netanyahu’s speech.
“We will commit whatever resources we need to make sure that people are aware of the facts, that given the choice to stand with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu in opposition to a nuclear Iran, they chose partisan interests and to stand with President Obama,” Brooks said.
Mort Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America, told Politico that any Democrat who boycotts Netanyahu’s speech is guilty of being “anti-patriotic and anti-American.”
“We will, of course, be publicly condemning any Democrats who don’t show up for the speech – unless they have a doctor’s note,” said Klein.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that she respects the prime minister and – addressing rumors of a Democratic protest against the speech – stated her intention to attend.
“I’m seriously considering going. As of now, it is my intention to go,” Pelosi said. But, she added, “it is still my hope that the event will not take place. There’s serious unease.”
“With all the respect in the world for Prime Minister Netanyahu, we have welcomed him royally on two occasions to the Congress,” Pelosi said.
“Only Winston Churchill was welcomed three times and one of them was during World War II. My father was there as a member from Maryland, December 26, 2941. I have the picture in my office.
“So it isn’t that there isn’t any respect, admiration even an affection for the prime minister and certainly the strong ties with Israel. But at this time I think it would be better if we didn’t have it. And I think I’ve said quite a bit on the subject. So you have to ask them how they thought the meeting went.”
On Wednesday, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer met with Democratic members of Congress to ease their concerns over Netanyahu’s speech, which expected to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Some expressed concern they’ve been placed in a political bind, caught between the president and the prime minister on a grave policy issue concerning national security.
Michael Wilner and Reuters contributed to this report.