At the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is giving a speech before a joint session of Congress in March. And he’s doing it because he and Boehner want to undermine President Obama and make him look bad. So far, two members of the Congressional Black Caucus — veteran civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and CBC chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) have announced they will not attend the speech.
Lewis told the AP “I think it’s an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did.” Calling Boehner’s actions “unprecedented” and the Netanyahu visit “politicized,” Butterfield said he was “very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” among members of Congress.
And good for them. Other prominent Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) are skipping the event, and several prominent Senate Democrats are considering it as well. And while AIPAC — the largest pro-Israel lobbying group — has given Netanyahu a thumbs up, Jewish groups as broad and diverse as the Union for Reform Judaism (the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S.), the ADL, J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace have spoken out against the planned address.
The Obama administration said the president will not meet with Netanyahu because of the “proximity to the Israeli election,” which occurs two weeks after the prime minister’s visit and would give the impression Obama is interfering with a foreign country’s political process.
Now, the rest of the CBC should follow suit and boycott the Netanyahu speech. The president, as the head of state in this country, was left in the dark and was not consulted about the prime minister’s visit. The move was highly abnormal and against protocol, some even suggesting against the law and an act of treason. Even Fox News’ Chris Wallace expressed “shock” over the decision to bypass the president. So Boehner and Bibi deserve the same amount of respect they are showing President Obama, which is none.
First of all, you don’t need to be a politician to identify and tag a purely political move. Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown no love for Barack Obama or his polices. In the 2012 election season, Netanyahu, a friend of then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, attempted to influence the presidential elections by speaking before Congress. And Bibi rebuffed the president and Secretary Kerry last year by refusing to cooperate in the peace talks with the Palestinians — an effort to bring stability, security and justice to the Mideast region by ending the brutal occupation and bringing self-determination to the Palestinian people.
Further, during Israel’s attack on Gaza last year, the Israeli military secured ammunition from the Pentagon without White House approval, catching the administration and the State Department off guard.
Netanyahu looks as much like a partisan GOP insider as the head of a foreign government. Over 90 percent of his campaign cash comes from conservative American donors, including Republican billionaire and mega donor Sheldon Adelson. He hired a Republican strategist to aid in his re-election campaign. In addition, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who played a big role in the Netanyahu invitation, worked with Republican pollster Frank Luntz and Newt Gingrich to write the GOP’s Contract with America in 1994. Ambassador Dermer was recently censured by Israel for campaigning for Netanyahu in violation of their civil service rules.
It is no secret that Netanyahu wants war with Iran and objects to Obama’s diplomatic strategy regarding Iran and its development of nuclear weapons. That he would dare come to Washington to use this platform to insult the president — a cheap gimmick to score political points back home – is both arrogant and shameful. Further, the bold and reckless action by Netanyahu reflects a fatal miscalculation on his part, a false assumption that the Democrats’ 2014 election losses would result in a weakened President Obama. Anyone who saw the State of the Union address would know better.
Now Netanyahu is throwing Boehner under the bus, claiming he thought the invitation to address Congress had full bipartisan support.
But if all of this will not keep the Congressional Black Caucus from Netanyahu’s speech, then perhaps they should ask the prime minister why he believes African people are a threat to Israel. There are around 47,000 African migrants in Israel, mostly asylum seekers who fled war, torture and genocide in the Sudan, Eritrea and the Congo. Israel has recognized relatively few of their asylum claims, and Netanyahu’s Likud Party has exploited these African refugees — who are the targets of violence and race riots — for political gain. Netanyahu has called the Africans “illegal infiltrators flooding the country” who he believes are threatening Israel’s security, identity and very existence — and are bringing the Ebola virus with them.
To make a point, the Netanyahu government now holds 2,200 African men in an open air desert prison, in an effort to make life so hard for these black refugees that they will return home. So, Benjamin Netanyahu has no love for President Obama, or for Africans, it seems.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s record of disrespect for the president, and their record on black Americans, is well established. The GOP has tried to undermine the man since he came to the White House, make a boogeyman of Obamacare, and disempower African-Americans by taking away their voting rights. Now, in the ultimate sign of disrespect, Speaker Boehner and his cohorts have decided to side with a foreign leader over their own president, a president they never really believed was legitimate in the first place.
Never in the history of the U.S. has a foreign leader been invited to speak before Congress for the sole purpose of getting re-elected, embarrassing the president, and empowering the president’s detractors. The CBC should keep this in mind and just #SkiptheSpeech.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove