Several senior Democratic senators announced Wednesday that they are considering boycotting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress, CNN reported.
The Senators took offense at what they say is a breach of protocol by House Republicans to invite the prime minister without the blessing of the White House.
“Colleagues of mine are very concerned about it and I’m troubled by it. I won’t name names, of course,” said Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL). Durban is a close ally of US President Barack Obama and the second most powerful Democratic senator.
“It’s a serious mistake by the speaker and the prime minister. The relationship between Israel and the United States has been so strong, so bipartisan,” he said.
Netanyahu, who has taken a more hawkish approach to nuclear negotiations with Iran, is expected to call on US lawmakers to take a stronger, less diplomatic stance with Iran. The Obama administration has taken the diplomatic route in aiming to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which Netanyahu says is just a stall tactic by the Islamic Republic to further its nuclear efforts.
While Durban has yet to decide on whether he will attend the March 3 speech, he referred to Netanyahu’s impending speech as a “terrible disaster for Israel.”
“One of my closest friends – one of the strongest supporters of Israel – described this Boehner tactic as a disaster, a terrible disaster for Israel,” Durban said, referring to Republican House Speak John Boehner who issued the invitation to Netanyahu.
“I won’t speak for any other members but they’ve been talking to me about what is the right way to react to what could turn out to be a divisive event,” he said.
Aside from Durban, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who herself is Jewish and is a senior US Senator, said in previous comments that she would also consider boycotting Netanyahu’s speech.
Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Netanyahu is only coming to the US to address Congress to help bolster his chances at getting re-elected in the upcoming Israeli elections.
“I take it very seriously,” she said. “My concern is that it is obviously political and it uses the backdrop of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate two weeks before a political campaign and violates all the protocols that’s always existed in terms of working this out with the President and I don’t think that helps Israel.”
Other senators who have voiced they may protest the speech include independent Sen. Angus King (ME) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that it would be a major mistake for Democrats to protest and skip the speech. “I think that would not be appropriate treatment of the prime minister of Israel, and I’m sure they can respond to their constituents as to why they would do that,” he said
McCain explained that the “overriding reason” why Netanyahu was invited to address a joint session of Congress is “because of our concerns with the negotiation with Iran, which will then allow Iran to become a nuclear power.”
The senator explained that Republicans had very little confidence in the direction of current negotiations. “We believe they’ve already given away, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, too much. That’s why we want to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu,” McCain stated.
Democrats called in Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer on Wednesday to defend Netanyahu’s speech. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) organized a meeting with Dermer and fellow Democratic representative to have a “candid” discussion on the “deep concern” over the Israeli leader’s speech.
The report said that within the House of Representatives, Democratic and Republican party members are circulating letters for or against the speech. Democrats are calling on Netanyahu to postpone his speech until after the elections while Republicans are issuing calls of support for Boehner’s decision to invite the prime minister.
While Obama has already snubbed Netanyahu by not agreeing to meet with the prime minister during his visit to Washington, Vice President Joe Biden may skip Netanyahu’s speech altogether.
Rep. Israel told CNN that Biden has yet to make a decision on whether to sit next to Boehner during Netanyahu’s speech. One of the vice president’s jobs is to preside over join sessions of Congress.