by James M. Wall
Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Il), have joined a growing number of senators and representatives who will skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday night speech to Congress.
Both Kaine and Schakowsky were surprise additions to the no show list, which by mid-day Friday had reached 43.
“Skip the speech” numbers are slow to grow, however, thanks to the robotic fear that continues to grip members of Congress any time an Israeli leader pushes their pavlovian buttons.
Ironically, this time it is not AIPAC that is pushing the buttons. It is Netanyahu, with his U.S. media, economic and political Fifth Column soldiers, doing the button pushing. That team is determined that Netanyahu will deliver what is essentially a “campaign speech” to the U.S. Congress Tuesday night.
“Campaign speech” in this instance is both for Netanyahu’s reelection as Prime Minister of Israel March 17, and his campaign to build a veto-proof U.S. Senate that will undermine President Obama’s peace negotiations with Iran.
Israel’s ruling political elite, its military leaders, and its security leaders are all sending word to sympathetic U.S. journalists that the speech is a bad idea. Al Monitor’s Israel Pulse writer Ben Caspit explains why even that opposition is not enough to evoke AIPAC’s open opposition to the speech.
“AIPAC”, Caspit writes, “is Netanyahu’s lobby and not the reverse”.
This has always been the case. Whichever party or political force runs Israel, it is AIPAC’s assignment to serve that power.
Netanyahu is pinning his political future on Tuesday’s speech. This is his career “crunch time”. Caspit again:
The invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before both houses of Congress March 3 was secretly cooked up by House Speaker John Boehner (Republican) and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer (who some consider ambassador to Las Vegas because of his relationship with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson). The news struck AIPAC heads like a thunderbolt.
They had not been briefed about it. They didn’t know about it, and “they didn’t believe such a thing could happen to them.”
One AIPAC leader told Caspit “in a private conversation after the invitation was publicized. “This is the lowest point we have ever reached.”
In shock over the secret invitation that sent AIPAC to its nadir point, the Lobby leaders have been forced into actions rare for them They are forced into a desperate effort “to minimize the damage”.
To smart and sensitive politicians, those, for example, who do not want to be left at the station when the next train departs, this is the moment to think creatively. Members of Congress have to decide what to do before Tuesday night.
To skip the speech, and then see Netanyahu win on March 17, is scary for a politician. If he loses, the next government might commend those who stayed away. Or not. A new prime minister may wonder if he or she can depend on the U.S. Congress to be as loyal as it has been trained to do.
Some members may decide to put principal over politics and hope the future treats them well. Representative Jan Schakowsky surprised political watchers when she joined the no show list.
She will not attend the speech, she announced, even though her love for the state of Israel is “in her DNA”.
Virginia’s Senator Kaine’s decision to skip the speech, was another surprise. It was a risky move for a senator believed to be a strong contender to run for vice president on a 2016 ticket headed by presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.
As of Saturday, February 28, Kaine was only the fourth senator on the no-show list, joining Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and two other Democratic senators, Pat Leahy, of Vermont, and Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz.
To the disappointment of progressive Democrats, except those progressive who are PEPs (“progressives except on Palestine”), Senator Elizabeth Warren has thus far only asked for Boehner to postpone the speech, a lukewarm request she had to know will be ignored.
Will Warren, the progressive presidential hoped for candidate attend the speech? Will she follow Senator Kaine’s example and stand with her president? Or will she join the cheering throng that chooses to attend the speech?
No Republican will skip the speech, of course, because it has become a Republican rule that the party opposes anything that favors President Obama.
Two other Democratic senators, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Chuck Schumer, of New York, had a good reason to stay away from the House chamber Tuesday.
Durbin and Schumer invited Netanyahu to a private meeting during his visit. Netanyahu refused the meeting, dismissing two of Israel’s strongest Senate supporters with the same arrogance he had demonstrated when he arranged his speech behind Obama’s back.
This is not chutzpah, yiddish for “arrogance with a flair”. It is the arrogance of a politician desperate to win a reelection campaign back home and solidify his control of the U.S. Senate.
So far, Durbin has suffered his public rejection in silence. Schumer meekly responded to his insult by urging his congressional colleagues to attend the speech.
The Obama administration has brought its big guns into play to express its anger over the speech.. The president, vice president and Secretary of State John Kerry will ignore Netanyahu.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice, ratcheted up her diplomatic language in an interview with Charlie Rose. The speech, she said, is ‘destructive” to the U.S.-Israeli relationship:
John Kerry hit back at Netanyahu with an even stronger reminder that this is not the first time Netanyahu has intruded into U.S. political decision-making.
Philip Weiss reported that:
“Secretary of State John Kerry said Netanyahu was “wrong” to oppose the U.S. preliminary deal with Iran and criticized Netanyahu for his advice to the U.S. before we invaded Iraq in 2003.
‘The Prime Minister was also profoundly forward-leaning about the importance of invading Iraq under George W Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision.’
At the time, discussing the impending attack on Iraq, Netanyahu said on CSPAN, to a congressional panel in Washington:
“If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region… The task and the great opportunity and challenge is not merely to effect the ouster of the regime, but also to transform the region.”
“Kerry’s criticism”, Weiss writes, “links Netanyahu implicitly with the neoconservatives who pushed the war to transform the Middle East, and makes all but explicit the idea that the neocons pushed the war out of concern for Israel’s security.”
Israel’s military and security leaders have made clear that they do not agree with Bibi’s insistence that Iran is well along to developing its very own nukes. On this issue, Bibi stands largely alone in his paranoia.
Those members of Congress who attend the Tuesday speech will cheer a foreign leader who is in Washington to lobby them to defy their own president.
Robert Naiman, writing in Truth Out, offers this background on Bibi’s rationale for speaking to Congress, quoting Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s explanation of why Netanyahu is giving the speech:
“The Republicans know, as the president has already made clear, that he will veto this legislation. So in order to pass legislation that overcomes the veto, two-thirds are required in the Senate. So if the prime minister can persuade another one or two or another three or four, this could have weight,” he said.”
Naiman explains the Netanyahu logic this way: To get a two-thirds majority in the Senate, Netanyahu needs to pressure Democrats. No show Senators Leahy, Sanders, Schatz and Kaine, will not be on Netanyahu’s whip list.
Ten Senate Democrats who are on Netanyahu’s must whip list, Naiman surmises, are what he calls the “Menendez 10?, senators who have openly voiced “their potential willingness to undermine the President’s diplomacy”:
Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Charles Schumer (D-NY); Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); GaryPeters (D-MI); Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA);Ben Cardin (D-MD);Chris Coons (D-DE); Joe Manchin (D-WV);Joe Donnelly (D-IN); and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Netanyahu already has his anti-Obama 52 Republican senators and, presumably the “Menendez 10? Democrats. With a few more Democratic stragglers, Netanyahu would be, writes Naiman, “within striking distance of a veto-proof Senate majority for war”.
Meanwhile, the “skip the speech” campaign moves forward. Rest assured, the television cameras will take note of empty seats during the joint session Tuesday night. Will your two senators and one house member be present?
The Washington Post this week reminded us that Wednesday of this week (February 25) this nation reached a milestone for peace. There have been no U.S. deaths in combat for 75 straight days, starting on December 11, 2014. This is the longest span of time without a U.S. military combat death since 9/11.
A sober thought for the members of the House and Senate as they decide on Tuesday between supporting President Obama or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The picture of Netanyahu above is from Reuters by Mike Theile. It appeared in Al Monitor. The picture of Jan Schakowsky is by Nancy Stone from the Chicago Tribune.