Top senator to skip Netanyahu’s speech, calls invite ‘tawdry’

Top senator to skip Netanyahu’s speech, calls invite ‘tawdry’

Joining growing list of those who won’t attend, Patrick Leahy bashes Republicans for bringing Israeli leader without coordinating visit

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

File: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, center, discusses the US travel embargo to Cuba, January 29, 2015. (CC BY/Senate Democrats, Flickr)
File: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, center, discusses the US travel embargo to Cuba, January 29, 2015. (CC BY/Senate Democrats, Flickr)

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy announced he would boycott Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress next month, joining a growing list of US lawmakers who have vowed not to attend.

Leahy, a powerful figure and the Senate’s most senior lawmaker, called the Republican invitation “a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself.”

The seven-time senator from Vermont said Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to the Israeli prime minister without first coordinating with the Obama administration “demolished the potential constructive value of this joint meeting.”

Leahy noted the unwritten rule of Congress speaking and acting “with one voice” on foreign policy whenever possible, with US national interests the paramount concern and “with caution about the unintended consequences of unilateral actions like this.”

“They have diminished that valuable precedent,” he said of the Republicans.

The timing, arrangements and the likely Iran-centered content of Netanyahu’s March 3 speech have infuriated the Obama Administration and other Democratic lawmakers, threatening to further fray already strained ties between Jerusalem and Washington.

In skipping the speech, Leahy joins Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and several Democratic House representatives who have pledged not to attend. US Vice President Joe Biden announced he would not attend, but blamed a scheduling conflict.

“The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy, and the idea that the president wasn’t even consulted — that is wrong and not a good thing for our country,” Sanders said at the Brookings Institute Monday.

“I may watch it on TV but I’m not going.”

US lawmakers are traditionally united in their support of Israel.

Some Israeli lawmakers and American Jewish groups have also called on Netanyahu to cancel the speech, which comes just two weeks before the March 17 Knesset elections.

Various Israeli leaders across the political spectrum have publicly criticized the prime minister for mishandling of the congressional speech, with opponents describing it as a cheap election stunt that would only undermine support of Israel in Washington.

The speech has quickly become a partisan issue in the US, prompting various Jewish groups to distance themselves from the visit as well.

Despite the outpouring of anger in both countries, Netanyahu has publicly vowed to “do everything” to prevent the US-led negotiators from reaching an agreement with Iran that would enable it to become a nuclear threshold state.

“A dangerous agreement with Iran is taking shape in Munich which would risk Israel’s existence,” the prime minister tweeted Tuesday, referring to talks over the weekend in the German city between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

“Therefore I am determined to travel to Washington and present Israel’s position before Congress and the American people,” Netanyahu wrote.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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