Joe Lieberman says event should be a bipartisan celebration

In Jerusalem, GOP senators slam Democrats for skipping embassy opening

Ted Cruz blames Obama’s Iran deal for eroding bipartisan support for Israel, says: ‘All 435 House members could have come. All 100 senators’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Israeli and the American flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, on May 13, 2018, on the eve of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Israeli and the American flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, on May 13, 2018, on the eve of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hours before the official inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem, controversy erupted over the fact that not a single Democratic congressman was scheduled to attend the festive event.

Two senior US senators from the Republican party expressed deep regret that none of their colleagues from the other side of the aisle chose to attend the ceremony. One of them blamed former president Barack Obama for the ostensible crack in the traditional bipartisan nature of the US support for Israel.

“That is a sad, sad manifestation. I wish he’d have every member of Congress here,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz said Monday morning in Jerusalem.

“I don’t know why the Democrats will not be here, chose not to come. Every member of Congress had the option before them to come and be here. There was no way on earth we could have inaugurated this embassy without my being here to celebrate it. It’s too important,” said Cruz.

Cruz is currently in Israel as member of a delegation of four US senators — all from the GOP.

This file photo taken on March 20, 2017, shows US Senator Lindsey Graham during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said he personally invited some Democrats to join the delegation, but indicated that none heeded his call. He also expressed disappointment over the fact that merely “a handful” Republicans traveled to Jerusalem to mark the embassy opening.

“I would just assume that the Republicans who didn’t come had [scheduling] conflicts,” he told reporters at a press conference in the capital’s King David Hotel. “But I am disappointed that not one Democrat came. What does that say? It’s not for me to tell you what that says. It hurts me. Because I work across the aisle on a regular basis. I think it was a mistake, because there’s too much going on in this region.”

Graham, like Cruz a former GOP presidential candidate, said support for American recognition as Israel’s capital has always been bipartisan.

“This has been the policy on the stump, forever,” he said.

On Sunday evening, Israel’s Channel 10 reported that the US embassy in Israel had not extended any invites to Democratic lawmakers.

But Cruz said no invitations were necessary for congressmen to attend the event.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., addresses the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Wednesday, July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“None of us were invited,” he said, adding that his delegation came about when he asked three of his colleagues to come with him to Israel to attend the embassy’s opening in person.

“Any member of Congress could have come here as part of the delegation,” Cruz said. “All 435 House members could have come. All 100 senators. There was no administration invitation. There was no one in the White House deciding we won’t ask those Congressmen to come.”

The other two GOP senators in the delegation are Mike Lee, of Utah, and Dean Heller, of Nevada. Also this week, Congressman Joe Wilson, of South Carolina, led a delegation of 10 Republican lawmakers to Israel.

According to Israeli reporter Ariel Kahane, Wilson “opened his [delegation] to any member [of Congress] who wanted to come.” He cited “people involved in the process” as saying the Democratic leadership in Congress “blocked its members” from attending the embassy opening.

The US embassy in Israel declined to comment on the matter. An embassy official merely stated, “As a general policy we won’t comment on guest list.”

There are currently 47 Democratic senators and 193 Democratic members of the House of Representatives.

“I’m gratified for those you come but I am saddened [by those who didn’t]. Support for Israel shouldn’t be a bipartisan issue,” Cruz said. “And it is worrisome that the fallout of president Obama’s Iran deal is that more and more we’re seeing a divide among partisan lines. It’s not good for Israel, it’s not good for America.”

Speaking to The Times of Israel on the sideline of the senators’ press conference, former senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, said he was “surprised” that no sitting legislators from his former party were in Jerusalem for the embassy dedication.

“I hope that the Democratic members had [scheduling] conflicts and they had to be somewhere else,” he said. “I hope that they don’t see this as some kind of pro-Trump rally in Jerusalem. It’s not. Its a pro-US-Israel friendship-partnership-alliance rally. And it’s celebrating the strength of our relationship, which has been always bipartisan.”

Former US senator Joe Lieberman speaking in the Knesset, November 23, 2015 (Yirmiyahu Vann)

Lieberman, who in 2006 left the Democratic party and ran as an Independent until he quit politics in 2013, was one of the co-sponsors of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandated the mission’s relocation but included a waiver allowing the president to delay the move for six month at a time. The law was co-sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats. It got 95 out of 100 votes in the Senate. In the House it received 374 yes votes and 37 no votes.

“Over the years, there has been tremendous bipartisan support for moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” said Lieberman. “I’m confident it’s going to stay that way. The fact that there are no Democrats here from Congress is kind of aberration, but I think you’re going to find us to go through this year and in the future there will be a continuation of bipartisan support in Congress for the US-Israel relationship and Israel.”

Lieberman said he was personally invited to attend the embassy inauguration by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Lieberman and Friedman used to work for the same law firm.

Then-US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro at a conference in Jerusalem, November 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“There is definitely broad bipartisan for Israel and I believe that in Congress there is broad bipartisan support for moving the embassy. That’s been demonstrated in many ways, without regard to who made the trip to attend the ceremony,” said former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who is affiliated with the Democratic party and did not receive an invite to Monday’s ceremony.

“I do think it is a responsibility of the sitting administration — and of the Israeli government — to make every effort to preserve the historic bipartisan nature of the US-Israel relationship,” Shapiro said.

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