Team Barack started strong, but Team Bibi is showing it knows how to finish, as supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu pick up steam against those urging a boycott of his speech next week before Congress.
About 20 House and Senate Democrats announced early on that they would not attend the March 3 speech, which is being cast as a rebuke to President Obama, but since then only a handful have joined them as pro-Netanyahu advocates counter by hinting at political consequences for the no-shows.
Christians United for Israel, for example, sent out an action alert a few weeks ago urging its members to contact their representatives in support of the Netanyahu speech. The result was a blast of more than 30,000 emails asking lawmakers not to let “partisan politics and petty excuses keep you from fulfilling the most basic of responsibilities of your office.”
“Our goal was to sort of stop the bleeding and push back,” said CUFI Executive Director David Brog. “Since that went out, there’s not been much of an increase or an increase at all in the numbers not attending. We hope we were part of the pushback that made folks think twice about this very blatant display of partisanship.”
Among those pushing back is the Republican Jewish Coalition, which started an online petition drive asking members to “join us in supporting Bibi and Boehner to stand up to Iran.” AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, has encouraged all members of Congress to attend the speech.
Those opposing the speech launched the first salvo, charging House Speaker John A. Boehner with inappropriate meddling in foreign policy for extending the invitation without first notifying the White House. Foes also accuse Mr. Netanyahu of using the platform to boost his chances in the March 10 Israeli election, which comes a week after his scheduled address before a joint session of Congress.
The liberal Jewish group J Street launched the petition drive “Israel’s Prime Minister is not the spokesman for all Jews,” along with the social media hashtag #BibiDoesntSpeakForMe. The left-wing group RootsAction, joined by Code Pink, American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and End the Occupation, was more direct, urging members of Congress to boycott as part of its #SkipTheSpeech campaign.
“Join us in raising our voices to protest Netanyahu’s speech, not because it’s a partisan snub, nor because the date is close to the Israeli elections, but because Netanyahu is going to Washington to undermine the U.S. strategy of diplomacy with Iran,” said their online action alert.
Mr. Obama is refusing to meet with Mr. Netanyahu during his visit here, accusing Mr. Boehner of breaking protocol in issuing the invite. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who as presiding officer of the Senate would normally sit on the dais behind the prime minister, has scheduled a trip and won’t be in attendance.
But only 23 of the House’s 188 Democrats, two of the Senate’s 44 Democrats and one independent have said they will skip the March 3 speech, according to an online “whip list” maintained by The Hill.
“Here’s the difference: Obama doesn’t have to run for re-election again. A lot of these guys do,” Mr. Brog said. “So if they’re doubling down with the White House on what is increasingly proving to be a naive approach to this evil, they could pay with their jobs.”
Read more: The Washington Times