Massachusetts Delegation Divided On Netanyahu Speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the 2015 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington Monday. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the 2015 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington Monday. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Massachusetts' all-Democratic congressional delegation is split over the decision of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept an invitation by House Republican leaders to address a joint session of Congress.

Two House members, Reps. Katherine Clark and James McGovern, are opting out of attending Tuesday's speech. Sen. Elizabeth Warren also said in a statement to The Boston Globe that she won't attend.

McGovern said he is a strong supporter of Israel but called the timing and circumstances of the speech deeply troubling, noting that it comes before an Israeli election and during nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.

"For Speaker [John] Boehner to use our relationship with Israel to score partisan political points is wrong," McGovern said in a statement. "The House chamber should not be used as a platform for a foreign leader to run his re-election campaign." He first announced his intention to skip the speech on WBUR last week.

Clark said she's committed to maintaining and strengthening what she called the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, but noted the invitation was offered without first consulting the Obama administration.

"This invitation came without consulting the president or State Department and with the false representation that it was a bipartisan invitation," Clark said in a statement. "Speaker Boehner has poisoned a critical foreign policy discussion with partisan gamesmanship."

Warren also said she remains a strong supporter of Israel and is "deeply concerned about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon," which she said she discussed with Netanyahu in November.

"It's unfortunate that Speaker Boehner's actions on the eve of a national election in Israel have made Tuesday's event more political and less helpful for addressing the critical issue of nuclear nonproliferation and the safety of our most important ally in the Middle East," Warren said in the statement.

Other members — including Reps. Niki Tsongas, Seth Moulton, Michael Capuano and Joe Kennedy — said they're planning to attend even though they don't support how Boehner set up the speech.

Tsongas said Israel remains the country's strongest ally in the region, but said she was disappointed with what Democrats have portrayed as Boehner's snubbing of the White House.

"I plan on attending Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech but remain disappointed that Speaker Boehner chose to ignore normal protocol that has turned the visit into a partisan issue and distracted attention from critical issues of mutual concern," Tsongas said.

Capuano said he's disappointed "Speaker Boehner would choose to politicize a relationship with such an important ally by not consulting with the president before issuing the invitation to address Congress."

Other members planning to attend include Sen. Edward Markey and Reps. Stephen Lynch, Richard Neal and William Keating.

Netanyahu's already tense relationship with President Barack Obama has reached a new low as a result of the planned speech.

The Israeli leader is deeply suspicious of Obama's efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, fearing the U.S. and its negotiating partners are prepared to leave Tehran on the cusp of developing a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu stressed he would speak clearly before Congress about the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to Israel and the world.

Netanyahu told a Jewish lobby group on Monday that his speech is not intended to inject Israel into American political debates.

The speech comes two weeks before Israeli elections.

This article was originally published on March 02, 2015.



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