Politico: Benjamin Netanyahu’s side strikes back

Friday, February 6, 2015
By Edward-Isaac Dovere and Jake Sherman


Now comes the backlash to the Bibi backlash.

Republican and conservative Jewish organizations are threatening shaming campaigns against Democrats who skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to a joint meeting of Congress next month. Even talking about not showing, they say, is forsaking America’s relationship with Israel.

...But as of now, the speech still looks like it’s going forward, and the Republican Jewish Coalition will be taking attendance.

“This is, I think a critical visit by the prime minister. If these Democrats would rather put partisan politics ahead of principle and walk out on the prime minister of Israel, then we have an obligation to make that known,” said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Brooks wouldn’t specify what methods this shaming campaign would use, but he promised that his group would do what it could. And since it’s backed in part by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who’s led efforts to connect Republican politics to support of Israel, there’s at least an implicit threat to use his funds to draw attention in the districts and home states of any member who’s not in the chamber to listen to Netanyahu on March 3. Aides to Adelson did not respond to requests for comment.

“We will commit whatever resources we need to make sure that people are aware of the facts, that given the choice to stand with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu in opposition to a nuclear Iran, they chose partisan interests and to stand with President Obama,” Brooks said.

...Congress can argue about whether Boehner and Netanyahu violated protocol, but Democrats have no choice to show now, argued former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer.

“Whether that’s true or not, what difference does it make? At this point, the prime minister is coming. Are you really going to boycott him?” Fleischer said.

Fleischer predicted that most Democrats will ultimately show for the speech. But if they don’t, he said they’ll be succumbing to political pressure from their liberal base that will lead to more partisan discord in the America-Israel relationship.

“If they boycott the speech, they’ll be casting their lot with the more liberal, not pro-Israel base of the party, and that would be a shocking development. It would be a radical break,” Fleischer said.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a freshman from New York who’s currently the only Jewish Republican in Congress, said he believes the only reason Democrats are voicing concern about the speech is to give President Barack Obama cover.

“There really isn’t any debate as to what the right decision is,” Zeldin said.

“Israel is our strongest ally, and in an area of the world that is facing the rising tide of radical Islamic extremism and state sponsors of terrorism in pursuit of nuclear capability,” Zeldin said. “It really should be a no-brainer to warmly embrace the leader of Israel, no matter who that person is ever, without missing a beat.”


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This article was published at on February 6, 2015