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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Obama plays the race card against Netanyahu

In case you didn't notice last night, seven of the eleven Democratic Representatives who have committed to boycotting Prime Minister Netanyahu's March 3 address to a joint session of Congress are members of the (Democrat-only) Congressional Black Caucus. And that's not a coincidence.
Two prominent black Democrats in the House of Representatives are vowing to skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress next month, a move that a White House insider says was put in motion by the Obama administration.
John Lewis of Georgia and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina both said Friday that they disapproved when House Speaker John Boehner invited the Israeli leader to address a joint session of Congress on March 3 without consulting President Barack Obama first.
That disapproval apparently was orchestrated, or at least strongly encouraged, by the White House through communications with lawmakers connected to the Congressional Black Caucus.
'I'm not saying the president called anyone personally,' a current White House staffer told Daily Mail Online.
'But yeah, the White House sent a message to some at the CBC that they should suddenly be very upset about the speech.' 'BACK CHANNELS': The Obama administration is nudging black Democrats on Capitol Hill away from attending a March 3 address by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, a White House aide says.
In other words, it is racist for Netanyahu to come to Washington to try to win an argument with Obama. That has Jonathan Tobin saying that Netanyahu should back off the speech (Hat Tip: The Conservative Tree House). 
With reports surfacing that the president has sought to persuade the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott his speech, the willingness of the administration sink so low as to play the race card against Israel illustrates that it no longer matters how right Netanyahu might be. Though his message about the danger from Iran is one that Congress and the American public need to hear, what he and his advisors seem not to understand is that the politics of the controversy have outstripped its content.

The reports about the White House signaling the Black Caucus that the speech should be seen as a domestic political issue rather than one about a difference of opinion over foreign policy is particularly ominous. It was bad enough that Democrats construed the decision to accept the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner as a partisan intrusion into an American policy dispute. But if African-American politicians and even ordinary citizens are being told that Netanyahu’s appearance at a joint session is motivated out of disrespect to the first black president of the United States rather than a belief that the administration’s opposition to more sanctions on Iran is bad policy, then the problem Israel is facing is far worse than even some of the prime minister’s critics had thought.
At this point, the informal movement to boycott Netanyahu’s appearance is gaining the sort of momentum that gives it a life of its own. Republicans and Netanyahu’s supporters both here and in Israel may think most congressional Democrats are bluffing and some might be. But even a partial boycott would undo any good that the speech might have done in the first place.
Let’s concede again that this situation is not so much the product of a Netanyahu blunder as it is of a cynical political strategy employed by the administration. There was no breach of protocol in the invitation, as we now know that Boehner’s office informed the White House of the plan before Netanyahu accepted it. Nor was this a matter of the Israelis favoring the GOP over the Democrats, as the Israeli government rightly understood that a majority of the president’s party supported more sanctions. Indeed, the bill Netanyahu favors is co-sponsored by as many Democrats as Republicans and Senator Robert Menendez has publicly and personally challenged the president on the issue without anyone accusing him of being against his own party or showing disrespect to the first African-American president. (In fact, it was Obama who showed disrespect to Menendez and other Democrats by speciously claiming that the only reason they opposed him on the issue was to please donors—a code word for supporters of Israel). Those who are piling on Netanyahu with such criticisms, like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform movement, are saying more about their own partisan loyalties than telling us anything about Netanyahu.
I have to disagree. This isn't about the Israeli elections (a point Netanyahu has made again today by asking the elections commission to allow the speech to be broadcast  here in Israel as a news event - as if we all won't see it on the internet anyway). It's about the chance to effect a policy change, to influence American policy on Iran. That chance won't be there after the elections, but Obama's opposition to Netanyahu coming to Washington will remain in place.

There's no better time than now.

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