Black U.S. Lawmakers: Netanyahu's Congress Speech 'Disrespects' Obama

Congressional Black Caucus members vow to skip Netanyahu's March 3 speech, calling it a slight to the president, Politico reports.

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Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. He won't attend Netanyahu's speech.Credit: AP

The backlash to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned speech before Congress continues, as black lawmakers say they will skip the speech that some view as an insult to the U.S. president.

"Many members" of the Congressional Black Caucus will not attend Netanyahu's speech, Politico reported Tuesday. Israeli officials were so surprised by the caucus' reaction that they have been working to arrange meetings between black caucus members and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer – who had a hand in arranging the invite to Netanyahu – and even the prime minister himself.

According to Politico, Democratic lawmaker John Lewis, a civil rights leader from Georgia, said he would not attend the March 3 speech, and other lawmakers quickly followed suit.

“To me, it is somewhat of an insult to the president of the United States,” Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) told Politico. “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.”

Netanyahu followed up that tweet with two more, saying, “I intend to speak in the U.S. Congress because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran.”

He added that he is going to the U.S. “not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but to speak up for the very survival of my country.”

The planned speech, which is set to take place two weeks before Israeli elections, has particularly riled Democratic lawmakers as the invitation to Netanyahu was made by John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, without consulting Democrats or the White House.

“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 policy makers are grappling with,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) told Politico. “It’s not simply about President Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader. It’s deeper than that.”

Obama has said he will not meet Netanyahu during his visit and top Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Patrick Leahy are vowing not to attend the speech.

Despite the backlash, Netanyahu is adamant about addressing Congress, as he tweeted on Tuesday, “I’m determined to speak before Congress to stop Iran. RETWEET if I have your support.”

I'm determined to speak before Congress to stop Iran. RETWEET if I have your support.

CBC chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told Politico that the group understands "Israel's plight" and supports it. He also said he holds Boehner responsible for the affront to Obama.

“I don’t hold Netanyahu responsible,” Butterfield said. “I hold Speaker Boehner responsible but I would hope that Mr. Netanyahu would not want to get involved. I personally think it is disrespectful.”