Congress needs to cancel Netanyahu speech

David Finkel

Momentum is building within Congress in opposition to House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress March 3 on the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability.

Boehner extended the invitation to Netanyahu without seeking the president’s consent in a politically charged and high-risk foreign policy challenge to President Barack Obama. The Boehner-Netanyahu maneuver could wreck efforts to resolve the nuclear arms dispute peacefully through scheduled negotiations.

More than 20 members of Congress have indicated they will not attend the speech. Several more are publicly undecided, and three — Nancy Pelosi, Jared Huffman and Maxine Waters — have called for the speech to be postponed or canceled. Vice President Joe Biden has announced that he will be traveling abroad on that date.

We call upon Detroit Reps. John Conyers and Brenda Lawrence, and Michigan U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, to add their voices to the call to cancel the Netanyahu address and urge them to refuse to attend if it goes ahead. Efforts by Netanyahu to undercut the foreign policy of the U.S. president should not be attended and cheered by Democratic politicians.

An invitation to a foreign leader to address a joint session of Congress is a fairly rare distinction. In this case, it is a travesty. In his speech to Congress on May 24, 2011, Netanyahu openly ridiculed the official policies of the United States against expanding Israeli settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank — with hundreds of U.S. representatives and senators cheering him on. This time, he is coming to Washington to provoke a breakdown of negotiations with Iran and promote a course of “tighter sanctions,” which risks a catastrophic Middle East war. Americans, however, clearly prefer negotiations.

Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu is a blatant ploy to destroy the international standing of President Obama. But we are concerned with more fundamental issues than who is stabbing whom in the back in the dark alleys of Washington politics. The truth is that Netanyahu seeks to divert U.S. attention from Israel’s continuing occupation, its ever-escalating settlements, roadblocks, checkpoints, mass imprisonment of Palestinians, including children, and its denial of normalcy and self-determination for the Palestinian people — all serious violations of international law, made possible by billions of dollars in U.S. military aid.

While Europe and our own college and university students increasingly condemn Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, the United States continues its uncritical support for Israel’s actions. To date, 135 countries (of 193 United Nations member countries) have recognized Palestine as an independent state. Yet the U.S. has chosen to block the Palestinian initiative for statehood recognition at the U.N. Even though achieving a Palestinian state and “the two-state solution” is official U.S. policy, our government impedes every actual attempt to achieve it.

It is time for American political leaders to call out this deeply tragic farce for what it is, before it is too late. Welcoming Netanyahu to Congress next month would serve as yet another bipartisan signature on the $3 billion blank check for occupation that our country writes every year. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress must be canceled or boycotted. The crude efforts of Netanyahu and Boehner to push our country toward another disastrous war must be stopped. We need our Michigan delegation to stand up for human rights and a negotiated nuclear deal, instead of a road to war.

David Finkel is the co-editor of the magazine “Against the Current.”

Barbara Harvey is a lawyer, representing rank-and-file workers and union members.

They are among the co-founders of Jewish Voice for Peace-Detroit chapter.