Democrats Mull Boycott of Netanyahu's Congress Speech

Group includes some of Israel's greatest allies in Congress; 'I'm not working for his campaign,' says Congressman Jim McDermott.

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Netanyahu after addressing a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, May 24, 2011.
Netanyahu after addressing a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, May 24, 2011.Credit: Reuters

An ever-growing group of U.S. senators and congressmen are considering boycotting a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled for March 3, in front of a joint session of Congress. According to The Washington Post, the group of legislators claim that the speech is a "political stunt" meant to embarrass U.S. President Barack Obama, and aid Netanyahu's election campaign.

The group includes of Israel's greatest allies in the U.S., including Senator Dianne Feinstein, who until very recently served as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "My concern is that it’s obviously political, and it uses the backdrop of the United States House of Representatives," Feinstein told The Washington Post.

Senator Richard Durbin, also considering a boycott, noted that many Democrats in Congress and the Senate want to be absent from Netanyahu's speech, in order to show support for Obama, and express their own opposition to a political maneuver hatched by Netanyahu and the Republicans.

Durbin noted that Democratic legislators are currently debating the issue of how to act during Netanyahu's speech, so as not to portray themselves as supporting Netanyahu's election campaign, and not to undermine ongoing negotiations with Iran. Regarding attendance, "I haven’t made up my mind," Durbin was quoted as saying.

At the same time, the possible boycott of Netanyahu's speech may be aimed more at Republican House Speaker John Boehner than at Netanyahu himself. It could also be a partial result of American party politics.

The invitation to speak was extended by Boehner – and accepted by Netanyahu – without coordination with the White House, causing diplomatic tension between the two countries.

"Colleagues of mine are very concerned about it and I'm troubled by it. I won't name names, of course," said Durbin to CNN. "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."

One key Democrat who says he's likely to attend is Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I respect their views," he said of those considering boycott. "From my perspective, if he is here I will probably be attending."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, said it would be a mistake for Democrats to 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.

Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott stated that he plans to boycott the speech. "It's a campaign stunt, and I'm not working for his campaign. I'm not a standing stooge," said McDermott to The Washington Post. His colleague, Congressman Jim McGovern, also expressed reservations about Netanyahu's speech, and noted that it would be remembered as a political ploy against the president.

In addition, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said during her weekly press conference that even those legislators who don't "boycott" the speech might be busy and otherwise unable to attend.

Pelosi noted that at this time, she plans to attend the speech, but noted in the same breath that she will continue to consider the decision as March 3 approaches.

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