Schakowsky Statement on Why She Won’t Attend Bibi’s Speech

by Jim Lobe

Despite growing pressure to attend Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to a Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday, a number of Democrats have issued statements outlining their reasons for staying away. Perhaps the most politically significant was the decision made by Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine for reasons spelled out in this Bloomberg analysis, which noted that there are now four senators who have said they will skip the occasion: Vermont Sens. Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Hawaiian Sen. Brian Schatz, as well as Kaine.

On the House side, nearly two dozen members–many from the Congressional Black Caucus–have announced their intention not to dignify what is clearly a very Republican event with their presence; among them Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee who laid out his rationale here. But I have to say I was particularly impressed by the eloquence and thoughtfulness of Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s statement, which was issued by her office on Wednesday and reproduced in full below.

An Israel Supporter Who Won’t be at the Prime Minister’s Speech

February 25, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – “After much thought, I have made the decision not to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 scheduled address before a joint session of Congress, while still hoping it will either be postponed to a more appropriate date or delivered in a closed session.

As a Jew, support for Israel is in my DNA.  Throughout my nine terms in the U.S. House, I have advocated that Congress and the Administration stand with Israel in a bi-partisan way to protect Israel’s security and very right to exist.  I strongly agree with both the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States that Iran can never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon.

That is why I feel particularly anguished that the ill-advised invitation from Republican House Speaker John Boehner has managed to threaten, in my view, both the security of Israel and the historic bi-partisan support in the Congress.

Much has been made of the ham-handed politics: inviting the Prime Minister to speak two weeks before his election and failing to consult with either the President or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  As much as I agree with those critics, I am more concerned about two lasting and serious consequences that could result from the Prime Minister’s actions.

First is the scuttling of the delicate negotiations with Iran, the goal of which is to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.  The Prime Minister wants the negotiations to end, and his purpose in speaking to the Congress is to convince us that the President is about to agree to a deal that threatens Israel’s existence.  He believes the President is naïve in thinking that he and the P5+1 can achieve any agreement that will stop Iran from rushing toward a bomb.

The Prime Minister may be correct that no deal can be reached.  In fact, President Obama and his negotiators go into this with eyes wide open.  As the President has said, “A bad deal is worse than no deal.”  But even if there is only a small chance that an agreement can be reached that will prevent Iran from building, perhaps within months, a nuclear weapon, why not keep working at it?  Having been briefed about the some of the non-negotiables that the U.S. and our allies have put forth, I strongly favor letting the talks proceed unhindered.  If the talks are to fail, let Iran be the party that walks away from the table rather than the United States.  If the U.S. were the cause of the collapse, our allies in the carefully crafted P5+1 would drop their support for the sanctions regime, shattering the international effort to stop Iran.

What is the alternative to an agreement?  Yes, the United States will increase sanctions.  But does anyone doubt that Iran will build a nuclear weapon regardless of sanctions?  Then the choices will be ugly: accepting a nuclear weaponized Iran or military action, i.e. war with Iran.  For me it’s obvious that we must give the negotiations a chance.  And, in the meantime, Iran has essentially halted its weapons program under the Joint Plan of Action while the talks are ongoing.

My second concern is the damage that has been done to bi-partisan support for Israel.  This is not the first time that the Republicans have tried to divide the Democrats and paint themselves as the only true supporters of Israel.  The reality is that, when it comes to tangible deliverables, the Obama Administration has been unfailing in its cooperation with Israel — more so than most, if not all, Administrations over the last 40 years.

As columnist Doug Bloomfield notes:

  •  “Obama has never embargoed arms to Israel as Reagan did to punish it for bombing Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.  Reagan even joined with Iraqi diplomats in writing and passing a UN resolution condemning the Israeli attack.
  • Obama never sought to delay or cut aid to Israel approved by Congress as both the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations did.
  • President Ford ordered a ‘reassessment’ of relations with Israel in 1975 because of what the administration called Israeli ‘intransigence’ in negotiations with Egypt and Syria.”

As an eight year member of the House Intelligence Committee, I know for a fact that our security and intelligence agencies have never worked more closely, making it all the harder to swallow the Prime Minister coming to lobby our Congress, in the most public and heretofore prestigious settings, to reject U.S. efforts to peacefully eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran.  As Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, said: ‘Netanyahu’s position will not change the West’s position on the Iranian issue, but his actions bring our relationship with the Americans to an extreme point and this might extract an unbearable price from us in the future.’  In talking to my Democratic colleagues, I believe this is not an idle concern.

There is still time to reschedule or relocate the speech.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, his Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, and House Speaker John Boehner should immediately rethink this dangerous mistake and follow the advice of former Ambassador Michael Oren who said: ‘It’s advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government.’  And I would add, so as not to bring Israel, the United States and perhaps the world closer to war with Iran.”

Photo: Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky photographed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel on Feb. 25, 2011.

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. @Norman
    We’ve been hearing the the threat to bomb Iran for how many years now? It is tiresome. If US/Israel were going to do it they would’ve. Iran doesn’t take it seriously, because it has confidence in its capacity to retaliate. There is no shortage of targets for Iran, in the meantime iran follows the New Hampshire state motto: Live Free Or Die. Good for them. Iran knows the real issue is not nuclear, and so these negotiations are a farce.

    Ayatollah Khamenei
    “The truth is that their opposition is because of the essence of the Revolution and the existence of the Islamic Republic. They were ruling the region without any worries. They had full control over a country like Iran, with its rich resources and numerous facilities. They used to do whatever they wanted. They used to make whatever decisions they wanted. They used to make the best of the facilities of our country in order to advance their own goals. But now they have been deprived of all these things.

  2. Thanks Don, I hope you’re right. Perhaps it’s all B.S., but then, “Murphy’s Law” is always in the background. Considering the Ukrainian situation, I’d be hesitant to bet the farm on much anything today. It’s all wait and see, hopefully not to late.

  3. Hey, it gives Kerry and certain Congress-critters self-assumed status that they represent the “world” against Iran. But the real world in on to this game, which is why it is dangerous for Americans to travel anywhere. That pokes some big holes in the “we are the world” fairy tale, doesn’t it.

    Worldwide Caution, Last Updated: January 9, 2015
    The Department of State is updating the Worldwide Caution to provide information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world.

    So bombing Iran would not only bring retaliation from Iran, but from the rest of the world as well. No embassy would be safe, no American would be safe. (Well, we’re pretty much there, but it would be much worse.)

  4. Pardon me, but as an American, I do not give a flying f***k at a rolling donut about Israel’s security. The congresslady’s statement may be “eloquent” and “thoughtful,” but I find them–coming from someone who is supposed to represent the people of the US–abhorrent and disgraceful.

  5. jjjihad, I agree with you in the main. But the problem is chipping away at decades and decades of lies and propagandizing. It can’t happen in an instant. We’ve all been told since we were born (well not Don Bacon because he’s of a different generation) that Israel is America’s good friend, and shielded from the truth of the crimes committed in Israel’s name, and our complicity in those crimes. You can’t all of a sudden expect people to just chuck out all the misinformation they’ve been fed all their lives. It’s a process. It will take a little time.

    That process would be accelerated if the press would start doing its job for and change, and start telling people the truth. How ’bout that idea? I know, pretty radical.

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