WASHINGTON (AP) — The Israeli prime minister’s upcoming speech to Congress without President Barack Obama’s blessing has angered Democratic lawmakers, but they see little remedy except to hope for minimal damage to their party and to US-Israel relations.
Democrats simmered in frustration last week as they faced a thankless choice between defending their president and defending the Jewish state they consider a crucial ally.
Some gleeful Republicans predicted Democrats’ complaints about Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech will drive Jewish voters to the GOP. Representative Joe Wilson, R-SC, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Democrats are making a “catastrophic mistake” by protesting Netanyahu’s plans.
“Traditionally, supporters of Israel have been really even-handed in supporting candidates of both parties,” Wilson said, but now “Democrats are slapping the friends of Israel in the face.”
Democrats reject such talk, saying Republicans have repeatedly overstated their appeal to Jewish voters.
Obama got 78 per cent of the Jewish vote in 2008, and 69 per cent in 2012, according to exit polls. Congressional Democrats won two-thirds of Jewish votes in last fall’s midterm elections, an especially bad year for their party.
Republicans want to portray Democrats as less supportive of Israel, “but no matter how much they try, they can’t move Jewish voters on this issue,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel group J Street.
House Democrats say Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, showed disrespect to the president — and perhaps cynical political goals — when he invited Netanyahu to address a House-Senate gathering next month.
Presidents cannot veto congressional speakers, but they usually are consulted.
Many Democrats object for three reasons: The invitation rebukes Obama; the speech, scheduled three weeks before Israel’s elections, might be designed to boost Netanyahu’s re-election hopes; and Netanyahu is certain to back new sanctions on Iran that the administration and Western powers argue could scuttle sensitive negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme.
The speech comes three weeks before the deadline for the US and its international partners to reach a framework nuclear agreement with Iran, one that could provide an outline for a more comprehensive deal to be finalised by late June.