Illinois Democrats divided on attending Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress

SHARE Illinois Democrats divided on attending Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. speaks during a Feb. 10 briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Schakowsky, the only Jewish member of the Illinois congressional delegation, said last week she will not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. | Alex Wong/Getty Images


While Republican lawmakers are united in attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speech before a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday to discuss Iran’s nuclear threat and lobby for more sanctions, Democrats who usually want to back President Barack Obama are divided. The Illinois delegation mirrors the national situation.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., the only Jewish member of the Illinois delegation, last week announced she will not attend and made the case this isn’t about strongly backing Israel. Said Schakowsky, “As a Jew, support for Israel is in my DNA.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, she said, “I’m not going to use the word ‘boycott.’ I respect the people that are going and those that are not. It’s a personal decision.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu without consulting the White House. Netanyahu’s expected pitch for tougher Iran sanctions — Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is one of the chief sponsors — comes as Obama has said he will veto the measure if Congress sends it to him. Obama said he would not be meeting with Netanyahu because the Tuesday address comes just weeks before Israeli elections.

The matter of whether to attend the Netanyahu speech has been difficult for Schakowsky and other Democrats who are strongly pro-Israel.

Boehner’s move, as a practical matter, was seen by Democrats as a tactic to drive a wedge between usually united pro-Israel lawmakers. The ongoing Iran negotiations makes the situation complicated — with Netanyahu’s own election mixed up with U.S. politics. It also added to already strained relations between Obama and Netanyahu.

On NBC, Schakowsky said, “to stick it to the president that the president, who is trying to negotiate an agreement that will in fact prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, is on the wrong page. And inviting a very prestigious speaker, the prime minister of Israel, to make that case right in front of the Congress. I don’t want to be part of that. By the way, I’ll be listening to every word. We do have things like television that, you know.”

Kirk will be in the House chamber for the address. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., after at first being undecided will attend. Last week, Durbin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote to Netanyahu and asked for a private meeting with Senate Democrats. Netanyahu declined.

A survey of the Illinois delegation so far, in addition to Schakowsky:


No: Rep. Danny Davis. A spokesman said, “The Congressman will not attend. He believes 1) that the invitation from the Speaker is a breach of protocol and is insulting to the President; 2) constitutes an inappropriate interference in the conduct of our nation’s diplomacy; 3) is too close to the elections” in Israel.

No: Rep. Luis Gutierrez. A spokesman said, “The Congressman has a consistent, strong record on Israel, but this speech is really more of a stunt. Republicans are playing politics with Israel for domestic consumption here and in the upcoming vote in Israel and the Congressman decided he would rather not participate.”

No: Rep. Robin Kelly. She said in a statement, “I am not attending today’s speech because I am disappointed that support for Israel has become intertwined with divisive domestic politics. While I remain a strong supporter of Israel, I believe that circumventing protocol in extending an invitation to the Prime Minister without including the White House is disrespectful to the President and is unnecessarily divisive. I will not engage in the politics that divide us,” Kelly said. “The conversation about the U.S.-Israel relationship should never be about strengthening or diminishing the President or Prime Minister. It should be about securing a better future for our people.”

Yes: Rep. Tammy Duckworth. A spokesman said, “While she is very disappointed in the way the invitation was handled, she will attend the speech. Israel is one of our strongest allies and our greatest partner in the Middle East. This relationship is too important to place in the middle of a politically motivated disagreement.”

Yes: Rep. Dan Lipinski. Lipinski said in an email, “I want to hear the Prime Minister’s views on the current turmoil in the Middle East and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is a very dangerous time for the world and, as always, I want to get as much information as possible to guide my decision-making.”

Yes: Rep. Bill Foster. A spokesman said, “While Rep. Foster believes Speaker Boehner’s breach of protocol was disappointing and ultimately dangerous to the US-Israel relationship, he will be attending the speech out of respect for the office of the Prime Minister of one of our most important allies. It is important that we maintain our strong relationship with Israel and maintain open lines of communication.”

Yes: Rep. Cheri Bustos. A spokesman said she will attend.


Yes: Rep. Adam Kinzinger. “Yes he is definitely going. He is fully supportive of Prime Minister Netanyahu visiting and looks forward to hearing one of our strongest allies discuss the many important issues facing not only Israel but the international community.”

Yes: Rep. Bob Dold. In an op-ed Dold wrote, “the back-and-forth over diplomatic protocol and Netanyahu’s visit may make for good Sunday morning talk show fodder, but it completely misses the point. It takes the discussion away from where it needs to be — preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.”

Yes: Rep. Peter Roskam.  He said in a statement, “Few world leaders can more clearly articulate the grave threat posed to both Israel and the United States from Islamic extremists and Iran’s ongoing quest for nuclear weapons than Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think we as elected representatives have a responsibility to discuss with our allies the critical economic and security issues of our time. My constituents rightfully expect me to be present and engage in these conversations, and I look forward to doing so.”

Yes: Rep. Randy Hultgren. A spokesman said, “Hultgren met with Benjamin Netanyahu last summer when he traveled to Israel with a congressional delegation, and believes his perspective will illuminate the issue for the Congress and the nation.”

Yes: Rep. John Shimkus. A spokesman said, “Israel is a republic in a sea of dictatorships and our most loyal ally in the Middle East. The congressman is excited to hear from the Prime Minister.”

Yes: Rep. Aaron Schock. A spokesman said Schock will attend.

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