February 3, 2015

Growing Backlash to Boehner’s Inappropriate Invitation

Speaker John Boehner’s invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress has been criticized as overtly-partisan, damaging to U.S. interests, and damaging to U.S.-Israel relations by top current and former U.S. officials, lawmakers, diplomats, military leaders, media outlets, and Israeli officials (see full list below). 

Tell Congress to Stop Netanyahu’s Speech Today.


Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – “It’s a serious big honor that we extend. That it should be extended two weeks before an election in a country without collaboration among the leaders of Congress, and without collaboration with the White House, is not appropriate.”

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) –  Butterfield said that he is “”very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” among members of Congress.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) –  “For the sake of diplomacy, peace, and respect for our ally Israel, to say nothing of stability in the Middle East, Speaker Boehner must cancel the joint session of Congress with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. If he does not, I will refuse to be part of a reckless act of political grandstanding.”
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) – “Having heard from many constituents across MD4, I’ve decided not to attend the Joint Meeting w/ Prime Minister Netanyahu. #diplomacyfirst”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) –  “I just think it’s the wrong thing. We shouldn’t be interfering in a foreign election, which we’re doing. And we certainly shouldn’t be inviting a foreign leader of Canada, Palau, Peru or Israel to rebut our president on a foreign policy matter.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) Constituent Letter –  “I think this represents a blatant disrespect for the President and the time honored tradition of foreign dignitaries being invited by whomever is President to our country. The Speaker chose to act unilaterally and during a period of negotiations with Iran which are highly sensitive and critically important. This is no time to play politics with the negotiations currently underway with Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons.”
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) – “I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) – “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.  It’s not simply about President Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader. It’s deeper than that.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) –  “I think it’s an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) –  “It’s a deliberate attempt to try to influence the Israeli election and done right after the State of the Union address in which the president said foreign policy is getting better, and Mr. Boehner wants to demonstrate that things are not getting better.”
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) – “I find it very disturbing when a foreign leader in the midst of a campaign for re-election is allowed to address Congress for the sole purpose of undermining a foreign policy priority shared by the Obama administration and our European allies to score political points at home. In my view Mr. Netanyahu’s speech before Congress is nothing more than a campaign event hosted by Speaker Boehner and paid for by the American people. Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election campaign is not my concern, but politicizing and damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship by aligning his government with Republicans in Congress against President Obama is something I completely reject. For these reasons, I will not be attending his address to a joint session of Congress next month.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-GA) –  “It’s a campaign stunt, and I’m not working for his campaign. I’m not a standing stooge.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) –  “What will be remembered here is the slight against our president and the partisan political nature of it, and I don’t know who’s served by that.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) – “To me, it is somewhat of an insult to the president of the United States. 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.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) – “He (Speaker Boehner) has demonstrated that he is willing to play childish games with our most serious questions of war and peace, and is equally willing to put partisan advantage over Israel’s security.  That the Speaker would seek to undermine the historic bi-partisan support for Israel in this way is an unprecedented, reprehensible act worthy of condemnation by both sides of the aisle, and from all friends of Israel.” 
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) – “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.  I think it’s silly and petty.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)  – “I think for us to extend an invitation two weeks before the Israeli election gives Israelis the impression we’re trying to meddle in their politics and I also find it extraordinary that a world leader would be invited before the Congress effectively to lobby in favor of a bill that the president opposes.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) – “My preference would be that the prime minister postponed his speech until after the deadline on these Iran negotiations and after the election. I don’t think Congress should become a forum, basically, for political campaigns in other countries.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) – “I am totally outraged at Speaker Boehner for doing it, I think it’s, it was deliberately designed to undermine the president — that’s close to subversion.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D-CA)  – “This was not the right thing to do.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) – “I remain hopeful that his address would be delayed until after their election.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) – “We have a strong relationship, a strong alliance with Israel. For the speaker to decide to go at it alone and to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu without consulting with the White House was a mistake.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) –  “My concern is that it’s obviously political, and it uses the backdrop of the United States House of Representatives, and the Senate and the House, two weeks before a political campaign, and violates all the protocol that’s always existed in terms of working this out with the president.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) – “It is not the norm to do this right before an election and it is being widely reported in the Israeli press as the U.S. expressing some kind of a preference.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) – “The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this joint meeting. They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) – “It didn’t show a lot of class. If it had been George W. Bush or Reagan or Clinton or whoever, protocol is protocol.” 
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) – “I’m sick about the fact that protocol has been violated, but you know, I’m always eager to hear what he has to say.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) – “The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy and the idea that the president wasn’t even consulted, that is wrong…I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I’m not going.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) – “I am disappointed in the Republican leadership’s invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress with the apparent purpose of undermining President Obama’s foreign policy prerogatives…I will not be attending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech because it does more harm than good to the bipartisan U.S.-Israel alliance.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) – “”I think he (Netanyahu) would be well advised to withdraw, so we’ll see what happens,” 
President Barack Obama – “I’m declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don’t meet with any world leader two weeks before their election. I think that’s inappropriate, and that’s true with some of our closest allies.”
Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary – “The protocol would suggest that the leader of one country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”
Senior Joint Chiefs of Staff officer – “It’s one thing for Americans to criticize their president, and another entirely for a foreign leader to do it. Netanyahu doesn’t get it — we’re not going to side with him against the commander in chief. Not ever.”
Former U.S. Diplomats and Generals:
Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State – “”He (Netanyahu) is interfering in our internal affairs and I don’t want to interfere in Israeli internal affairs but it strikes me that there’s an awful lot going on in his neighborhood, in the Middle East, and that’s where he should be.”
James Baker, former U.S. Secretary of State – “The executive branch of government really has the primary power and responsibility and authority to conduct the nation’s foreign policy. It’s not in the Congress, it’s in the executive branch. So our foreign policy benefits when there’s cooperation and so does the issue of U.S.-Israeli relations.”
Edward Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Israel – “This is an unnecessary irritant in the basic U.S.-Israeli relationship and it couldn’t come at a more delicate time, where the Middle East region is in such turbulence and there’s so many challenges.”
Gen. Paul Eaton (retired) – “It is highly inappropriate for the speaker of the house to so publicly meddle in foreign affairs. It is a gross breach of protocol to invite a head of state without due coordination with the president.”
Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (retired) – “I can tell you from my own experience that Mr. Netanyahu is way out of his lane. And you can be sure there isn’t a military officer in uniform who would get involved in this issue. It’s not just that Netanyahu is showing disrespect for Mr. Obama; it’s that he’s disrespecting U.S. institutions — he’s thumbing his nose at our way of doing things. Even for those out of uniform this is a mistake. It’s one thing to show disrespect for President Obama, that happens all the time, but it’s another thing to show disrespect for America. That just can’t be tolerated.”
Gen. Robert Hoar (retired) – “I think that Mr. Netanyahu is making a mistake, but that’s just my personal opinion. You’ll note that his decision to speak before the Congress was meant to highlight his view that the U.S. should impose more sanctions on Iran. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Israel has become the issue — not Iran. Is that really what he intended? So his strategy, to bring us together is actually pulling us apart. It’s unbelievable.”
Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel – “Netanyahu is using the Republican Congress for a photo-op for his election campaign and the Republicans are using Bibi for their campaign against Obama. Unfortunately, the U.S. relationship will take the hit. It would be far wiser for us to stay out of their politics and for them to stay out of ours.”
Current and Former Israeli Officials and Lawmakers:
Zehava Gal-On, Meretz Party chair – “The prime minister who speaks from morning until night about the Iranian threat, is prepared to sacrifice Israel’s position in exchange for an election campaign photo-op.”
Isaac Herzog, Labor Party chair – “The time has come when Bibi (Netanyahu) must announce the cancellation of his visit to Congress. In conversations I’ve held with many European and US leaders, it is clear there is great anger over Netanyahu diverting the discussion on Iran’s nuclear program for political gain, and turning it into a confrontation with the president of the United States.”
Tzipi Livni, Hatnuah chairwoman – “A responsible prime minister who first thinks of the good of his country’s citizens does not do such a thing. A responsible prime minister would know to work with the president of the United States — with any president — and protect our most important interests.”
Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. – “It’s advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government.”
Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region – “It is our impression that these people’s (right wing groups’) support for the speech stems from their identification with, and admiration for, a move to defy and humiliate President Obama, more than from the importance they attribute to the Iranian issue.”
Shelly Yachimovitch, Knesset member – “It’s a very brutal and unacceptable bypass of the president of the United States and something like that simply damages [Israel].”
Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, former intelligence chief – “When we manage our relationship with the US, we have to manage it simultaneously with the president and Congress. The prime minister has made it in to a partisan issue in the US, and we cannot let Israel become a problem for one party or the other.”
Editorials and Commentators:
Chicago Sun-Times – “Boehner and Netanyahu undoubtedly meant to poke President Obama, bruising him and the vital working relationship between the U.S — specifically U.S. Democrats — and Israel.”
Dallas Morning News – “U.S. diplomacy on such a serious issue as Iranian nuclear weapons must not be swayed by a foreign politician’s re-election bid. In fact, Netanyahu himself blasted a previous Israeli prime minister for doing exactly the kind of pre-vote maneuver he plans to do. Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum are questioning Netanyahu’s wisdom. They warn that the trip could damage the already strained relationship with the Obama White House and, perhaps more important, derail the Iran negotiations at a crucial phase in the talks. Netanyahu is unlikely to tell Congress anything members haven’t already heard, so why the urgency?”
Los Angeles Times – “The diplomats who are actually conducting the negotiations insist that meaningful progress has been made and that Iran has abided by its commitment not to expand its nuclear program during the talks in exchange for limited relief from existing sanctions. If that’s the case, legislation by Congress now could derail the diplomatic process. Why take that risk?”
New York Times – “Lawmakers have every right to disagree with presidents; so do foreign leaders. But this event, to be staged in March a mile from the White House, is a hostile attempt to lobby Congress to enact more sanctions against Iran, a measure that Mr. Obama has rightly threatened to veto.”
San Francisco Chronicle – “It’s a slap at President Obama, who didn’t ask for the Washington visit and doesn’t plan to meet with Netanyahu. It’s also deeply divisive, coming just three weeks before a deadline in the Iran talks aimed at controlling weapons work with outside inspections. Who are we dealing with, Iranian leaders must wonder, if the Obama team is at the negotiating table while Republicans are listening raptly to an Israeli leader who wants to torpedo the deal?”
USA Today – “When Netanyahu speaks on March 3, a pivotal deadline in the nuclear talks will be just three weeks away. While it’s fair to worry about a bad deal, the time to judge is after a framework agreement is reached. To kill any deal in the crib, as Netanyahu and the most radical factions in Iran are eager to do, is to destroy the last, best chance for a peaceful outcome, because chances that Iran will capitulate and drop its program under pressure are zero.”
Robert KaganThe Washington Post – “It doesn’t matter what good allies the United States and Israel are, and it doesn’t matter how bad relations may be between Netanyahu and President Obama. Allies don’t go big-footing around in each other’s politics.”
Jeffrey GoldbergThe Atlantic – “It makes absolutely no sense for an Israeli leader to side so ostentatiously with a sitting American president’s domestic political opposition.”
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