Timing of Invitation for Netanyahu to Address Congress is Troubling

January 21, 2015

As a pro-Israel organization which works to strengthen the deep ties of friendship and strategic alliance between the United States and Israel, we are obviously always grateful for the high honor of seeing an Israeli Prime Minister invited to address the US Congress. Congress does not issue these invitations lightly. Britain’s wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill is the only leader to have addressed a joint session three times. Benjamin Netanyahu will tie that record with this latest address.

However, we feel that it was a mistake for House Speaker John Boehner to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu now. Mr. Netanyahu is not only head of the Israeli government — he is also a candidate in the midst of a highly-contested election campaign. His invitation, rightly or wrongly, will inevitably be interpreted in Israel and elsewhere as an attempt by an outside actor to interfere in the Israeli election. We would urge Mr. Boehner to postpone the invitation until after the election and then to invite whoever is elected Prime Minister, who will enjoy a fresh mandate from his or her people to address the Congress.

The timing is also troubling because of what may be a looming battle over Iran sanctions legislation that President Obama has vowed to veto should it reach his desk. Again, the intention may be pure, but the appearance is just as important as the intent. This will inevitably appear to many to be an attempt by a Republican standard-bearer to enlist the support of a foreign leader in a battle to gather votes to overturn a presidential veto. In other words, that foreign leader would be seen as intervening in a domestic battle between two branches of the US government.

In general, we are disturbed by the way Israel is becoming a political football in the struggle between Republicans and Democrats. Traditionally, support for Israel has been bipartisan but it would appear that some in both countries want to make it a partisan issue. There was much comment in the 2012 presidential election after some Republican campaigners appealed to Jewish voters with the argument that Governor Romney could be trusted to back Israel while President Obama could not. Fortunately, the voters disregarded this patently false claim. Now we have Mr. Boehner risking creating the appearance of enlisting the Israeli Prime Minister for battles he may not be able to win alone on the merits of his arguments. This trend, if allowed to continue, has deeply worrying implications for Israel, which will always need support from across the American political spectrum to feel truly secure and to maintain the broad, grassroots support of the American people.