by Jim Lobe
The JTA is reporting a move by more than 90 House members to invite Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to once again address a Joint Session of Congress when he comes to keynote AIPAC’s annual policy conference March 2-4. You’ll remember, of course, the last time this happened — in 2011 — when our lawmakers thoroughly embarrassed themselves by bouncing up and down in their seats with 29 standing ovations — far more than what Obama has ever gotten from the same audience — for the Israeli leader’s 50-minute address, or an average of more than once every two minutes. (A great version of the performance, with musical accompaniment, was featured on the Israeli on-line journal, +972 Magazine, and can be seen here.)
Thus far, according to the JTA report, 79 Republicans and only 17 Democrats have signed on to the letter that is being sent to the House leadership requesting the invitation at the apparent instigation of its two main sponsors, Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) The fact that the signatories are overwhelmingly Republican naturally recalls what happened with the Kirk-Menendez bill when its primary sponsors, Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez, succeeded in rounding up only 16 of 55 Democratic senators once the administration, backed up by 10 Democratic committee chairs, made clear its opposition to the bill. Indeed, the increasingly partisan nature of Israel-related issues must be causing heartburn at AIPAC’s headquarters, which pulled the plug on Kirk-Menendez once it became clear that it could not get more Democrats to co-sponsor the bill. Now, it may be that Lamborn and Sherman can obtain many more Democratic signatories, but thus far this looks like a Republican initiative designed to embarrass and undercut the administration. Coming so soon after the Kirk-Menendez debacle, it seems doubtful that AIPAC is behind this. The question then becomes, besides Lamborn and Sherman, who is? Is it those groups, like the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) or the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) that publicly criticized AIPAC for making, in ECI’s words, “a fetish of bipartisanship?” Was Bibi’s new ambassador, Florida-raised Ron Dermer, involved? Did Bibi himself know? If so, and if so few Democrats were willing to sign, it would be highly embarrassing, not to say politically risky.
If Netanyahu were to appear before a Joint Session, it would be his third time, tying Winston Churchill for the record. (In addition to his appearance in 2011, Netanyahu also was given that honor when he last served as Prime Minister in 1996.) Of course, Churchill is regarded as a hero by Bibi, as he is by other neoconservatives (who extol Churchill’s imperialist and racist worldview, as well as his role in defeating Nazism), so he would no doubt be sorely tempted by an invitation, even at the risk of further alienating (if that were possible) the President of the United States. It’s worth noting that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has addressed a joint session of Congress eight times since 1941, while the Presidents and/or Prime Ministers of Israel, France, Mexico and Ireland are tied in second place at seven a piece. But Israeli leaders have appeared more frequently than those of any other country since Yitzhak Rabin became the first in 1976.
Lamborn represents the Colorado Springs area in Congress and clearly stands on the far right of the party. His Wikipedia entry appears not to have been written by admirers, and, aside from his alleged opposition to regulating dog-fighting, one thing that stands out in his profile given the current circumstances is his deliberate boycott of Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address to, in the words of his spokesperson, “send a clear message that he does not support the politics of Barck Obama, that they have hurt our country.” Here is his press release about his new initiative:
Congressman Lamborn Leads the Way on Inviting Israeli Prime Minister to Address Congress
Nearly 100 Members of Congress Want to Hear Netanyahu Speak
Nearly one hundred Members of Congress have signed a letter circulating in the US House of Representatives urging the House Leadership to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a Joint Session of Congress during his upcoming visit to Washington.
The bi-partisan letter, which was spearheaded by Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and is addressed to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, cites the importance of inviting the leader of “our closest ally in the Middle East” to speak to Congress at a time of widespread instability and turmoil in the region.
“Given the importance of our relationship with Israel we ask you to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a Joint Session of Congress. Doing so would send a clear message of support for Israel,” the letter reads.
“The strong support we have received for this initiative shows our close relationship with the State of Israel which is based on deeply shared values, as well as moral, historical and security ties,” said Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-05).
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a joint session of US Congress, May 24, 2011