Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the midst of a heated reelection campaign. Yet he is traveling 5,900 miles to give a speech before a joint meeting of Congress on March 3 - just two weeks before Israelis go to the polls. House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, working with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, a former Republican political operative who renounced his U.S. citizenship, extended the invitation in a clear effort to undermine the president while the United States and its five partners engage in tough negotiations with Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons - a national security priority I strongly support.
In other words, the speaker of the House has provided the Israeli prime minister with a global platform to both attack our president and deliver a campaign message to voters at home.
Former U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman said in a Post op-ed this week that all members of Congress should attend the speech because, as other world leaders have received respectful attention, “so too does the prime minister of Israel deserve to be listened to respectfully.” Respect is important, but it should be reciprocal between allies. Boehner and Dermer ignored diplomatic protocol by failing to inform the White House of the Netanyahu invitation.
“To think about going behind the back of a friendly country’s administration and working out this kind of arrangement with the parliament or the Congress - it’s unheard of,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. Such an unprecedented lack of respect toward a U.S. president has not gone unnoticed in Israel, either. As Oudeh Basharat, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, noted, “Greater respect is even accorded to banana republics.”
The last time Netanyahu addressed Congress, in 2011, he thanked President Obama for his “steadfast commitment to Israel’s security” and told the world that “time is running out” on preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - a position I expect will be repeated in next week’s speech. Footage from that speech was used by the Likud Party for campaign commercials when Netanyahu last faced Israeli voters. Using video from the floor of the U.S. House for campaign purposes is prohibited for members of Congress - apparently except when they play extras in a commercial promoting Netanyahu.
On March 17, Israelis will elect a new government. They need to base their vote on their own priorities. It is my hope that Israelis will see Netanyahu’s speech for what it is - a campaign rally. Such a speech should be held on Israeli soil, not on the floor of the U.S. House.
Basharat concluded his Haaretz column by saying, “Any leader who tried to do to the Americans what Netanyahu has done would be ejected immediately, not from Washington but from office in his home country.”
That’s one opinion. I will respectfully leave that choice to Israeli voters. In the meantime, I will respectfully abstain from attending Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign rally.
The writer, a Democrat, represents Minnesota’s 4th District in the House.