Congressman Steve Cohen to skip PM’s Congress speech

Democrat calls Netanyahu’s visit a ‘political tool wielded against our president’; Bennett to join Washington trip

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Ten.) speaking on the floor of the US House of Representatives (screen capture: C-SPAN)
Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Ten.) speaking on the floor of the US House of Representatives (screen capture: C-SPAN)

Jewish Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Ten.) joined a growing group of American lawmakers publicly eschewing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress next week about the perils of striking a bad deal with Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

Cohen affirmed his strong Jewish identity and support for Israel Tuesday, but accused Netanyahu and Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner of playing political games and engineering the speech as a tool to be wielded against the Obama administration.

“Providing a forum of such immense prestige and power to the leader of another country who is opposing our nation’s foreign policy is beyond the pale,” Cohen said in a statement, calling Netanyahu’s move “high theater” in the prime minister’s reelection campaign.

Other lawmakers have vowed to avoid the event as well.

At least eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus said they won’t attend to the March 3 speech, while Vice President Joe Biden announced that he will be “overseas” in a bid to avoid an uncomfortable situation that would see him seated behind Netanyahu in full view of the cameras.

“The speaker’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu is political gamesmanship and it is a very dangerous game,” Cohen said, adding that Boehner was attempting to “curry favor” with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“After deliberation, I have decided I cannot in good conscience attend the Prime Minister’s speech,” he noted.

While Cohen announced he wouldn’t attend Netanyahu’s speech, the prime minister’s key political ally, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, said he would accompany him to Washington.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Bennett said that a nuclear-armed Iran wouldn’t differentiate between left- and right-wing Israeli politicians, and called on all party leaders to “set their disagreement aside and join the prime minister in [his] mission against Iran.”

“I intend to do this and to be in the United States during the last political opportunity we have to stop a nuclear Iran,” Bennett wrote. It wasn’t clear whether he would be attending the speech to the joint session of Congress.

The head of the Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, called for bipartisan support for Netanyahu’s speech in Congress. Abraham Foxman said that while the prime minister’s decision to speak in Washington before consulting the White House was “ill-advised,” it was now a fait accompli which “deserves support from both sides of the aisle.”

“This is a time for members [of Congress] to transcend the political controversy and come together to underscore the broad support for Israel’s security and understanding of its unique concerns about the threat of a nuclear Iran,” Foxman said in a statement.

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