Iowa reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to members of Congress this morning, covering the expected ground about U.S.-Israeli relations and the danger posed by negotiating with Iran. Yesterday President Barack Obama defended his administration’s policies and suggested that events had disproved Netanyahu’s warnings about the 2013 agreement designed to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Obama isn’t planning to meet with Netanyahu during this Washington trip because of the Israeli election happening later this month.

At least 50 Congressional Democrats skipped today’s speech, mainly because Republicans had invited Netanyahu to speak without working through White House channels. Furthermore, many people feel it’s inappropriate for the U.S. Congress to appear to support one political party leader two weeks before an Israeli election. Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference yesterday, Netanyahu disingenuously said, “The last thing anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue.” Which of course has been the entirely predictable outcome of this episode. For that reason, this Jewish blogger is among the roughly half of Americans who disapprove of Republican leaders inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress.

All of the Iowa Republicans in Congress attended today’s speech. I’ve enclosed some of their comments below and will update this post as needed. UPDATE: Representative Steve King (IA-04) put his reaction on YouTube.

Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) watched the speech from his office. I enclose below his statement, explaining his views on U.S.-Israeli relations and his reasons for staying away from the “spectacle.” I support his position 100 percent. The Republican Party of Iowa accused Loebsack of insulting “America’s ally” by not hearing the prime minister’s thoughts. But Loebsack did listen to what Netanyahu had to say–from an appropriate distance. Incidentally, House Minority Nancy Pelosi commented that while listening to Netanyahu this morning, she was “saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States.”

Senator Chuck Grassley’s comments to Radio Iowa:

Grassley, a Republican, was asked if Netanyahu was disrespecting President Obama. “No, not at all,” Grassley says. “We have a separation of power between executive and legislative. We can do whatever we want to as long as it’s constitutional and as long as it doesn’t hurt the interests of the United States and I don’t see a speech hurting the interests of the United States.” Grassley says the speech is generating “more controversy…than is necessary” and he’s looking forward to the speech.

Grassley says, “The joint session gives Congress and the entire American people, maybe even the world, an opportunity to hear directly from the leader of our close ally on the latest security threats from the volatile Middle East and from Iran.” Netanyahu was quoted Monday saying the Israeli-American alliance is stronger now than ever before. Grassley says he welcomes the input from this statesman on the growing number of threats in that region of the globe.

“The threats include the Islamic State terrorists and in regard to Iran, with the possibility of their acquiring nuclear weapons,” Grassley says. “I’m interested to hear the Israeli prime minister’s perspective.”

From Senator Joni Ernst’s press release of March 3:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) will attend the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address to a joint session of Congress. The Iowa Senator is also among 52 cosponsors to the resolution (S.Res.76), welcoming the Prime Minister to the United States in anticipation of his address.

“As we face ever increasing global challenges, especially in the Middle East, it is crucial we recognize our relationship with Israel and stand behind our longtime friend, trusted ally and important partner for our nation,” said Senator Ernst. “A nuclear Iran is a threat to Israel – and our nation – and we ought to hear from our best ally in the Middle East on this important issue. The United States must confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions and take the necessary steps to support Israel in their right to defend itself. I look forward to hearing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today.”

Statement released by Representative David Young (R, IA-03):

WASHINGTON, DC – Iowa Congressman David Young joined his colleagues to listen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a Joint Meeting of Congress this morning in the Hall of the House of Representatives.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress comes at a critical time and I was proud to join Congress in welcoming him in the interest of policy and not politics. Hearing from our most trusted ally in the Middle East is vital as Congress charts a path forward in the region. The security challenges in the Middle East – including Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons – have a direct impact on America, Israel, and the world. His remarks were an important and timely discussion on issues crucial to our national security.”

Statement released by Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02):

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. Loebsack watched the speech from his office.

“The strategic importance between Israel and the United States is as important as ever as we work towards the commonly held goal of ensuring Iran does not achieve nuclear weapons capability. Since being founded in 1948, Israel has been and remains one of our closest allies and the relationship has long been a bipartisan one. But after Speaker Boehner injected partisan politics into the debate, this speech became nothing more than a spectacle where attendance at the speech mattered more than what was actually said. It is my hope that we can now move beyond this speech and continue to move towards a deal with Iran that has strict verification mechanisms to ensure Iran does not get nuclear weapons capabilities.”

Excerpt from an Iowa GOP press release, March 2:

Congressman Loebsack Insults America’s Ally

Good afternoon,

Congressman Loebsack indicated today he likely won’t attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow.

All other members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation – Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst, Congressman King, Congressman Blum, and Congressman Young – are planning to attend.

Statement from Charlie Szold, communications director: “It is outrageous that Congressman Loebsack won’t attend tomorrow’s speech by the prime minister of Israel. Israel is a strong friend in a region of hostility, and Congressman Loebsack’s actions are embarrassing to the state of Iowa. We urge Iowans, especially those in the 2nd District, to call and tweet Congressman Loebsack and tell him that you expect him to do his job and hear the prime minister’s thoughts on our mutual security.”

  • A breakthrough moment?

    I think we’re going to look back on today in 10, 15 years and see it as a watershed moment, the point at which blind unquestioning support of Israeli policy became a US domestic political liability rather than an asset. As a Lifelong Loebsacker, I’m pleased.

    Used to be, when I was even mildly critical of Israeli policy, I was beaten up hard, and that intimidated me from writing about the subject for about five years. But recently, my tentative testing of the waters has gotten more praise than criticism. (Still afraid to get into too much detail about what I really think, though.)

    Here’s hoping we can keep honest discussion going into the presidential race, though I think Hillary Clinton is exactly the wrong candidate to promote that. (My second question for her, if she ever takes an unscripted question in Iowa, is “name one issue where you disagree with AIPAC.”) My only hope is that as president she can do a Nixon Goes To China on the issue.

    • not expecting much innovation from her

      on this issue, but if Netanyahu stays in power, a “Nixon goes to China” moment could become more likely, as Netanyahu has aligned himself so strongly with U.S. Republicans.

      For almost 30 years I’ve been sick of AIPAC enforcing its party line on American Jews. The dirty little secret is that among Israelis, there is much more tolerance for diverse opinions about the two-state solution, etc.  

  • Good for Loebsack

    And not so good that Pelosi (apparently) did attend. And shame on Bohner for doing this. And as for the rest of our Iowa delegation, meh. They’re partisan and their party currently is deeply into doing whatever they can to marginalize this particular President. I’ve come to expect no better from them. They readily live down to my expectations.

    So be it.

  • Israel

    I have to be on the ground in order to get a clear picture of what goes on in Israel.  The shit (I use that word quite forcefully, in this case) that you read on the internet either comes from the John Bolton/Louie Gohmert types or the Kucinich/Amy Goodman types.  I’d have to visit the country extensively in order to get to the truth.  

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