Letter circulating among House Dems urges postponement of Netanyahu speech


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A letter urging Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to postpone a planned March 3 speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is circulating among Democrats.

The letter, initiated by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Keith Ellison(D-Minn.) notes that Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was issued without coordination with the White House, comes two weeks before elections in Israel and is intended by Boehner to rebut President Barack Obama’s opposition to new Iran sanctions legislation while nuclear talks with Iran are underway.

“Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship,” says the letter, obtained by JTA. The letter was still circulating among Democrats for signatures on Friday and has yet to be sent.

“We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed,” it says. “When the Israeli prime minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.”

Boehner issued the letter, in coordination with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader, on behalf of both parties, although neither leader consulted nor notified their Democratic counterparts before the invitation was issued Jan. 21.

Democrats in the Senate say they will block a vote on new sanctions legislation until after a March 24 deadline for an agreement outline between Iran and the major powers, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, has said she opposes new sanctions.

The sides in the nuclear talks are negotiating a deal that would swap sanctions relief for guarantees that Iran does not advance toward a nuclear weapon.

Separately, Boehner said that he instructed Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer not to inform the White House about the invitation.

Boehner on Thursday issued an unusual breakdown of the steps leading up to the Jan. 21 invitation, apparently in response to a report in the New York Times that described outrage with the ambassador within the Obama administration for Dermer’s role in setting up the invitation.

Dermer reportedly met for two hours with Secretary of State John Kerry on Jan. 20, a day before the invitation was issued, yet did not mention the invitation to Kerry.

“On January 8, Speaker Boehner called Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to gauge the prime minister’s interest in an invitation – and we were informed that the prime minister was open in principle to an invitation,” Boehner’s office said. “The Speaker made it clear that it was his prerogative to inform the White House.”

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