by Jim Lobe
I don’t want to get into a daily round-up of events surrounding this fiasco, but a few things deserve some notice before the weekend break.
First, it appears as if John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was indeed fraudulent on its face. As we noted in today’s earlier post, the invitation was issued by Boehner explicitly “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate” (my emphasis), which was simply, as we now know, untrue. The Democratic leadership in both houses were not informed, let alone consulted, about the invitation. By Boehner’s own admission, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was entirely ignored. Her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid (D-NV), has denied receiving prior word. Just to make sure, I called Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office today just to confirm that Reid’s version was accurate. McConnell’s spokesperson, Laura Hendrickson, confirmed that her boss had indeed been consulted in advance. When asked whether he or his staff had informed Reid, she replied, “No, not that I know of,” although she added that she would check with others in the office and get back to me. That was about five hours ago.
Adding to the conviction that the wording of the invitation was fraudulent was this report entitled “Israeli official suggests Boehner misled Netanyahu on Congress speech” from Israel by Reuters earlier Friday:
“It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move, in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one sided move and not a move by both sides,” Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told 102 FM Tel Aviv Radio on Friday.
The interviewer asked if that meant Netanyahu had been “misled” into believing Boehner’s invitation was bipartisan, a characterization Hanegbi did not contest.
Thus, it now appears that Israel’s foreign ministry is suggesting that Boehner cooked up this whole scheme himself and actually fooled poor Bibi into thinking that the invitation was indeed bipartisan and Bibi bears no responsibility for this misunderstanding whatsoever. This is an entirely incredible explanation given Boehner’s own account of the consultations that preceded the issuance of the invitation and the pivotal role played by Bibi’s ambassador here, Ron Dermer. If Hanegbi’s explanation is to be believed, we would have to conclude that neither Dermer nor his staff, let alone Bibi himself, ever bothered to ask anyone associated with the “bipartisan leadership” of either house of Congress whether the relevant Democrats had signed off on the invite. This whole episode positively reeks of bad faith. Nevertheless, Netanyahu reportedly has no intention of canceling or delaying his speech.
It is thus no wonder that Biden’s office today indicated that the vice president will probably miss the occasion due to his traveling schedule—a decision that naturally adds to pressure on Democratic lawmakers to at least sit on their hands if not skip the speech altogether come March 3. The third-ranking House Democrat, James Clyburn (D-SC) and the head of the Congressional Caucus, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), will also boycott, according to the latest reports.
Finally, one of the organized Jewish community’s most influential leaders and leading Iran hawk, Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman, urged Netanyahu Friday to cancel the visit outright. According to a report in The Forward:
As the controversy surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress reaches new heights, one of the Jewish community’s top leaders is calling on the Israeli prime minister to stay home.
… “It’s a tragedy of unintended consequences,” Foxman told the Forward, describing how the idea of presenting Israel’s view on Iran spiraled out of control, reaching even the John Stewart show, a step, Foxman said, that “turned the whole thing into a circus.”
“One needs to restart, and it needs a mature adult statement that this was not what we intended,” Foxman told the Forward. He said that going ahead as planned with the speech would be counter-productive, with all attention given to the political controversy rather than to the issue at stake. “It has been hijacked by politics,” Foxman said. “Now is a time to recalibrate, restart and find a new platform and new timing to take away the distractions.”
Of course, Foxman presumably didn’t mean to suggest that John Stewart bears even the slightest responsibility for the “circus” created by the invitation. Responsibility for the “circus”—a word that frankly endows it with more dignity than it deserves since this looks more like a junior high school prank—lies entirely with its authors: John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ron Dermer, Bibi Netanyahu, and those who advised them. Which is just one more reason why their policy positions on Iran should not be taken seriously either.
Photo of Abe Foxman