WASHINGTON (JTA) – At least five more black lawmakers said they would not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s congressional address.
Politico reported Wednesday that these members of the Congressional Black Caucus would not be going to the March 3 speech. Three leading caucus members had already announced they would not attend.
The Hill, meanwhile, surveyed Jewish Democrats and found that 14 out of 27 intended to attend. The sole Jewish Republican, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), has pledged to attend.
The opposite trends among blacks and Jews underscore how the visit is polarizing Congress, with Republicans welcoming Netanyahu and Democrats saying the visit is a mistake.
The Israeli prime minister last month accepted an invitation from Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to speak to Congress, although Boehner had not cleared the invitation with President Barack Obama or Democrats in Congress. Boehner wants Netanyahu to rebut Obama’s contention that nuclear talks underway between Iran and the major powers are constructive.
Jewish Democrats with close ties to the pro-Israel community have expressed their upset and are caught in the middle.
“I’m deeply troubled that politics has been injected into this enduring relationship that has always been above politics, but I plan to go,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told The Hill.
Black lawmakers have cast the visit as a matter of disrespecting Obama.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), well known for his pro-Israel views and for being a founder of the 46-member Congressional Black Caucus, made it clear on Twitter that he thought the speech unwise.
Attaching a photo in which he strikes a remonstrating pose, Rangel said, “Bibi: If you have a problem with our POTUS’s foreign policy meet me at AIPAC but not on the House floor.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference is March 1-3.
A number of Jewish groups have said the visit is unwise and have called on Netanyahu and Boehner to postpone. Netanyahu says he is determined to come.
Two of the groups favoring a postponement tussled Wednesday over how best to campaign for one. J Street is running an online petition campaign featuring an unflattering photo of Netanyahu and the caption ‘No, Mr. Netanyahu, you do not speak for me.” The Anti-Defamation league called the campaign “inflammatory and repugnant.”
J Street countered that the drive was addressing Netanyahu’s reported recent claim that in his campaign against Iran, he does so as a “representative of the entire Jewish people.” Noting a longstanding tradition in which Israeli leaders have agreed not to speak on behalf of Diaspora’s Jews, J Street said, “the Prime Minister for Israel cannot speak for the entirety of our community.”