Wiesel pleads with Obama, Congress, settle differences, let Netanyahu speak


WASHINGTON (JTA) – Elie Wiesel urged President Barack Obama and Congress to put aside their differences over Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the body next month, saying the Israeli prime minister’s message on Iran was too important.

“I plead with you to put aside the politics that have obscured the critical decisions to be made,” the Holocaust memoirist and Nobel Peace laureate said in an ad promoted Thursday by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a onetime Republican candidate for Congress who has sharply criticized the pushback against the planned speech.

“Surely it is within your power to find a solution that will permit Israel’s prime minister to deliver his urgent message,” Wiesel says in the ad. It is not clear when the ad will appear, although Boteach said on Twitter it would be published in the New York Times.

Washington has been roiled by the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress on March 3, issued by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives without consulting congressional Democrats or Obama.

Obama and other top administration officials will not meet with Netanyahu during the visit, citing its proximity to Israeli elections March 17, and some Democratic lawmakers say they will not attend the speech as the invitation violates protocol.

Boehner invited Netanyahu in part so the Israeli leader could rebut Obama’s support for nuclear talks with Iran, which Obama says is constructive and Netanyahu and Republicans believe will leave Iran on the threshold of attaining  nuclear weapons.

Wiesel likened the modern Iranian leaders to the biblical Haman, noting the speech will take place on the eve of Purim.

“As Queen Esther said when addressing her king: ‘How can I behold the destruction of my people?’” he says in the ad.

Separately, three top Jewish Democrats in Congress asked Boehner to address allegations by Israeli officials that he failed to inform them that he had not properly cleared the speech.

The letter from Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who ran the last two House elections for Democrats, and Ted Deutch, the top Democrat on the House Middle East subcommittee, quoted Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, and Tzachi Hanegbi, the deputy foreign minister.

Dermer and Boehner began organizing the invitation on Jan. 8, and Dermer has said that Boehner told him that informing others of the invitation was the speaker’s prerogative, an account Boehner has confirmed. Hanegbi has said that Boehner implied that it was a bipartisan invitation and that Israeli officials were not aware Democrats were kept in the dark.

“Why didn’t you notify and coordinate ahead of time with the administration?” ask the lawmakers, who say they will nonetheless attend the speech, in the letter. The letter also asks if Hanegbi “ was right in saying you engaged in a one-sided move instead of a move approved by both sides?”

Boehner has said that his office informed the White House of the planned invitation the morning of Jan. 21, before making the invitation public. It is not clear how much notice Boehner gave the White House, and his office did not respond to a query from  JTA about this, but Boehner posted the invitation on Twitter that morning at 9:35 a.m.

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