Day 1 at AIPAC: Trusting Congress, expecting little from White House and anxious about Bibigate

The marching orders to the reported 16,000 attendees were clear on the first day of this year’s AIPAC policy conference: push legislators to pass a proposed bill that would give Congress the right to approve or reject any nuclear agreement signed between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime.

And the implications, too, were clear: AIPAC, an organization built on fostering bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and the White House, all but expects the president to sign a “bad” deal with Iran, one that the group believes would make Iran a threshold nuclear power and would endanger Israel’s existence.

This dynamic—relying on Congress to counterbalance the White House—along with the anticipation and anxiety over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday address to Congress, characterized the first day of AIPAC’s three-day conference in Washington, D.C.

While AIPAC’s top brass and politicians addressing the conference did not ignore the drama surrounding the circumstances of the speech—which has further frayed an already troubled relationship between Obama and Netanyahu—the focus was on the two bills AIPAC and its army of citizen lobbyists will push when they pack Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

First, the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015”, a bill introduced on Jan. 27 that would automatically introduce new sanctions on Iran if nuclear talks collapse. Second, the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015”, introduced last Friday, which would require Obama to obtain Congressional approval over any nuclear deal with Iran.

As Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s CEO, said, “Thank goodness for Congress.”

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), appearing together on stage Sunday morning in symbolic bipartisan fashion, praised the AIPAC members for what the two said is their influence on lawmakers.

“To my AIPAC friends, you’re going to make more difference than any speech any politician could deliver,” said Graham, a crowd favorite. “AIPAC is the glue that holds this relationship together.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) (R), interviewed by Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University Frank Sesno in Washington on March 1. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The South Carolina senator said that he will be in the “front row” of Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech to a joint session of Congress, which news reports have suggested he will use as an opportunity to inform lawmakers of particularly risky and dangerous elements of the deal.

“Let us commit ourselves to get as many eyes as possible on this deal before it becomes binding,” Graham said.

Cardin, stating that Israel must never become a “political wedge issue”, also helped pump up the crowd in preparation for their Tuesday lobbying mission. “We need you on Capitol Hill. We have to keep strong sanctions against Iran,” Cardin said. “We could use your help.”

For all the talk, though, about how support for Israel cannot become a Republican or Democratic issue, by putting its weight and resources behind Congress as a sort of nuclear negotiations watchdog, AIPAC's message is clear—the White House is headed toward a dangerous deal, and only Congress can stop it.

“There are some real strains in the relationships,” Kohr admitted. “There is a serious policy difference, particularly over Iran.”

About 30 Democrats reportedly plan to skip Netanyahu's Tuesday speech to Congress, which has further worsened an already toxic relationship between the current governments in Washington and Jerusalem. Netanyahu critics have argued that he’s using the speech as a political tool for upcoming elections in Israel, that he disrespected the Obama administration by not informing it beforehand of the address, and that he’s turning Israel into a partisan issue in Washington.

Netanyahu’s office has repeatedly said that he has an obligation to speak up for Israel because it stands the most to lose from a bad deal with Iran, and that it was not the responsibility of Netanyahu’s office to inform the White House, but of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office, which officially invited Netanyahu. Boehner’s office reportedly informed the White House of Netanyahu’s acceptance two hours before it was publicly announced.

Sunday at AIPAC, although Kohr and politicians in attendance stressed the importance of attending Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, there were few, if any, public endorsements of his decision to address lawmakers.

“There’s no question that the way this speech has come about has created a great deal of upset among Democrats in Congress—House and Senate,” Kohr said. “It’s created some upset, frankly, outside the Capitol and, frankly, it may have upset some people in this room.”

On Feb. 26, Al-Monitor columnist Ben Caspit reported that AIPAC’s top officials “were in shock” after they learned of Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress, and that the group warned Netanyahu that some Democrats would “boycott” the speech.

And even though Kohr did not endorse Netanyahu’s decision, he stressed that AIPAC believes “it’s an important speech.”

“We have spent active hours lobbying for members of the House and Senate to attend this speech,” Kohr said. “When the leader of our greatest ally in the region comes to Washington to speak about the greatest challenge of our time, we hope and urge members of Congress to be there to hear what he has to say.”

Cardin, striking a similar tone, said that the “circumstances surrounding the invitation are not how it should’ve been.”

“But don’t lose focus,” he continued. “The bad guy is Iran.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Ca.), who represents a district in Los Angeles and sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an afternoon panel session about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, that the “personal and partisan” nature of the hostility between Obama and Netanyahu makes it harder for Democrats to go against Obama and vote on sanctions while negotiations with Iran are ongoing.

“Back home they view this as a personality contest between two people, Bibi Netanyahu and President Barack Obama,” Sherman said. “It's hard for people in districts where the president got 60, 70, 80 percent of the vote to vote against Obama's position on sanctions now that it's such a personal, high profile issue.”

“It is much more difficult for me to go to Democrats,” he said.

Netanyahu ‘regrets’ partisan perception of speech; Rice calls planned address ‘destructive’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told top Senate Democrats he regretted that his planned address to the U.S. Congress is being perceived as partisan, as President Barack Obama’s top security adviser said the speech was “destructive.”

Netanyahu wrote Tuesday to decline an invitation from Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranked Democrat in the chamber, and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) the top-ranked Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, to meet privately with the chamber’s Democratic caucus in part to clear away bad feelings about his March 3 speech.

“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Netanyahu wrote in the letter.

The Israeli leader had organized the speech with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House speaker, who did not consult with the White House or Democrats in issuing the invitation, which was made in the name of both parties. Obama administration officials are furious with the invitation and Netanyahu’s acceptance of it, in part because the speech comes just two weeks before the Israeli elections.

The speech is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Susan Rice, the national security adviser, told television journalist Charlie Rose on Tuesday.

“What has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu on two weeks in advance of his election, is that on both sides, there has now been injected a degree of partisanship,” Rice said.

Feinstein and Durbin in their letter had said they wanted to clear away the partisan taint of the speech affair.

“I can assure you that my sole intention in accepting it was to voice Israel’s grave concerns about a potential agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country,” Netanyahu said in his letter.

Netanyahu, like many Republicans, rejects Obama’s depiction of nuclear talks under way between Iran and the major powers as constructive, and believes the talks are likely to result in a bad deal.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to attend the speech while adding that Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation to speak was “ill-advised.”

“While the original decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to accept the invitation to address Congress without consulting the Democratic leadership was, in our view, ill-advised, now that it is happening, the speech deserves support from both sides of the aisle,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in a statement.

“The debate about the invitation should not obscure the profound issues at stake for both the U.S. and Israel, which have a common interest in insuring that Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism and a nation committed to Israel’s destruction, should not have the capability of building a nuclear weapon.”

The ADL was the most prominent of Jewish groups to speak out against Netanyhu accepting the invitation to the speech. Some 30 Democrats have said they will not attend.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which during its conference March 1-3 will also feature a Netanyahu speech, is encouraging lawmakers to attend the speech, as well.

Criticism of the speech by Democrats intensified ahead of the date. On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), addressing John Kerry during the secretary of state’s testimony on the State Department budget, said Netanyahu “has created a very divisive situation.”

“I don’t know of any other time that the administration has been ignored,” Udall said.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), meanwhile, became the fourth Jewish lawmaker to say he would not attend the speech. His statement, blaming Netanyahu and Boehner equally for the tensions, was notable in that Democrats until now tended to place more of the blame on Boehner.

“I believe, as do many conscientious members of Congress, that the speech is political theater by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Likud Party, just two weeks before the elections in Israel,” Cohen said.

The Tennessee lawmaker urged Boehner to make it a condition of the speech that Netanyahu not use video of the address in political ads.

Why not support President Obama?

Why should I, a liberal in the bluest of cities in California, the bluest of states — where President Barack Obama now has a 57 percent approval rating — be subject to the whims of the pro-Republican prime minister of Israel? 

And why should I or anyone else listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he allies himself with the most inflammatory elements of the Republican Party, which are portraying our president as unpatriotic and as a man who appeases Iran and Islamic terrorists?

[PRAGER: ” target=”_blank”>as reported by the Jewish Journal’s Aron Chilewich. Most will attend, Chilewich wrote, “but not without first expressing their displeasure with the Israeli leader and … Boehner.”

One point in the dispute between Obama and the Netanyahu-Boehner team is complex, and I sympathize with the members of Congress working their way through an issue that is both highly technical and politically charged.

It involves the negotiations between Iran and the United States and its partners Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia over curtailing the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu wants the program dismantled, rather than limited. He says Iran is building nuclear arms, which he argues are a threat to Israel’s very existence. He places no stock in Iran’s insistence that it needs nuclear energy for uses beyond war. He sounds like a man willing go to war to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program, a war that could, in turn, drag the United States into the conflict on Israel’s side.  

This is not a partisan matter. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are co-authors of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if negotiations with the six major international powers don’t reach a deal by June 30. Some other Democratic senators have joined Menendez. Faced with the threat of a veto from Obama, Menendez and the other Democrats told the president they will hold off on the legislation until after a March 24 deadline set by the negotiating countries for an agreement.

Intelligent people can argue over this. But there should be no argument over another purpose Boehner had in inviting Netanyahu to speak as well as in the prime minister’s acceptance. That purpose is to damage Obama and the other Democrats.

By going along with Boehner, Netanyahu is, in effect, supporting efforts to smear the president as an appeaser of Iran and as being unpatriotic. Here’s how Boehner described his take on Obama’s feelings on Iran, according to Fox News: “The president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror. His exact message to us was: ‘Hold your fire.’ … Hell no.”

The best-known purveyor of the virulent anti-Obama line is former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who, as reported in Politico, said of the president, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up, and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Giuliani is the most unrestrained of the Republican attackers. Boehner gives comfort to them. “I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian. I’ll take him at his word,” Boehner said Feb. 22 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But when asked if he didn’t think it was his duty to speak out against Republicans who say they think Obama is a Muslim, Boehner said, ”It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. The American people have the right to think what they want to think.”

Also in recent days, asked about Obama’s religion by Washington Post reporters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, an early leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, said he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

But the representatives Chilewich interviewed — Democrats Brad Sherman, Ted Lieu and Adam Schiff — are not running in conservative Republican districts and don’t have to espouse some distorted truths about the president’s religion and patriotism. These men, who ran as liberals, are not being asked by an ultra-right constituency to prove their Republican chops so they can win an early primary in another more conservative state. In a straightforward, objective manner, Jewish Journal reporter Chilewich portrayed a Los Angeles-area congressional delegation wanting to have it all — to be seen viewing and presumably applauding Netanyahu while voicing mild criticism. But the reality is, sometimes in the political business you can’t have all. There are fences that can’t be straddled, and this is one of them.  

Rather than listening to Netanyahu and likely applauding him, the local Democratic members of Congress should denounce him for giving aid and comfort to those who oppose the progressive politics that got them elected. 

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Some Democrats accede to Netanyahu and Boehner

Most of the outspoken supporters of Israel among Los Angeles’ congressional representatives will attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech on Iranian nuclear capabilities before a joint session of Congress — but not without first expressing their displeasure with the Israeli leader and Republican House Speaker John Boehner. 

Neither the White House nor the State Department was notified of the address — orchestrated by Boehner with the assistance of Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer — prior to its announcement, a clear breach of protocol for a visit by a foreign leader. And the speech is set to take place just two weeks before Israeli elections, generating accusations that political motivations are at work. 

Although support for Israel typically has been a bipartisan issue in Congress, some Southern California House Democrats believe Boehner’s surreptitious invitation to Netanyahu is an attempt to divide their party’s allegiance to the Jewish state.

“I think Boehner’s goal was to try to drive a wedge between Democrats and Israel. That helps Boehner, but ultimately it hurts Israel,” U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who will attend the speech, told the Journal in a phone interview. 

U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) also will attend the speech, according to members of their staff, and Schiff has communicated frustrations similar to Sherman during various TV interviews in the past few weeks. 

“It is so important that the support for Israel be bipartisan,” said former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, who for years was one of Israel’s most vocal Democratic supporters on the Hill. “Many Republicans have tried to drive a wedge between Democrats and the issue of the State of Israel, which I think is the wrong thing to do, and now the prime minister is helping them.”

As of press time Feb. 17, more than 20 House Democrats have said they will skip the speech, as have three Democratic senators. Many more Democrats are on the fence. According to media reports, Vice President Joe Biden also has declined to appear at the joint session, citing previously arranged travel plans. 

Although no members of Congress from the Los Angeles area have publicly declined to attend the joint session at this point, a few contacted by the Journal and other media outlets say they are still making up their minds, including U.S. Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-Panorama City), Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles). Sen. Dianne Feinstein also is still deciding. 

Sherman said he will speak with Democrats who have said they will not attend Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to communicate that “attendance at the speech does not constitute an endorsement of the fact that the speech is being given just two weeks before an Israeli election.” 

As Israel’s March 17 election approaches, Netanyahu’s Likud Party is neck and neck with Zionist Camp, a new center-left alliance between Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah. In recent weeks, debate over the prime minister’s speech has consumed Israel, with parliamentary candidates and commentators on the left and right expressing disappointment with Netanyahu. Although a recent poll by Tel Aviv University found that most Israelis agree with Netanyahu that an agreement between the Obama administration and Iran could prove harmful to Israel, more than 57 percent think Netanyahu should not have accepted Boehner’s invitation, and 67 percent believe the timing of the speech is political. 

A similar incident took place in 2012 when Netanyahu and his Republican allies in Congress criticized Obama for declining to meet with the Israeli leader during his trip to speak at the United Nations just weeks before the American presidential election. Various Democrats, including Waxman and Sen. Barbara Boxer, defended the president and accused Netanyahu of turning a security issue into a political affair.

The prime minister’s present concern is the United States’ ongoing negotiations with Iran in Geneva over its nuclear program. Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, have called for Congress to immediately enact new sanctions against Iran, prior to the negotiations’ March 24 deadline. They fear, as does Netanyahu, that no agreement will satisfy their demand of a completely denuclearized Iran. Obama has promised to veto any such pre-emptive legislation because it would thwart any chance of a comprehensive nuclear deal. 

When the Associated Press reported recently that the U.S. and Iran were considering a compromise that would diminish Iran’s ability to manufacture nuclear weapons but allow it to maintain uranium-enrichment technology, Republicans in Congress expressed outrage.

“I know what Netanyahu’s standards are. The best possible negotiations in Switzerland will not meet Netanyahu’s standards, but he would be in a much stronger position if he were to wait until he sees what comes out of the oven before he makes his pitch,” Sherman said.

Both Sherman and Waxman told the Journal they believe Netanyahu’s concern for how a deal with Iran would affect his country is legitimate, but that the method he is using to deliver that message is a misstep. 

“[Netanyahu] said that he needs to come here to express his outrage about the deal that may happen with Iran, which he feels could jeopardize Israel’s survival. And I think it is important that he communicate that,” Waxman said. “But there are ways he could communicate that other than by stepping into our domestic politics, leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth of so many Americans.” 

In fact, Sherman said, many Democrats share Netanyahu’s concerns and would not support repealing sanctions on Iran.

“Obama isn’t even hinting to the Iranians that he can deliver a vote to Congress that he can lift sanctions. The question before Congress is, do we impose additional sanctions,” Sherman said.

Numerous Democrats, including Obama and Sherman, have said they would support additional sanctions against Iran if the negotiations do not result in an agreement. 

Even if the negotiations are successful, some Democrats are likely to find the agreement unsatisfactory and would support new sanctions against Iran despite the threat of a presidential veto. Netanyahu’s speech would make it more difficult for Democrats to vote for additional sanctions over Obama’s veto, Sherman said.

“If the purpose of speaking to the American Congress is to get Congress to vote in a particular way, then Netanyahu has already given the most spectacularly unsuccessful speech, and he hasn’t even reached the podium,” he said.

Regardless, Sherman plans to attend. 

“I have that much respect for the prime ministership of Israel.”

For Netanyahu, urgency trumps niceties when it comes to Iran, anti-Jewish attacks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be running for office in Israel, but this week he had plenty of strong messages for Jews in the United States and Europe.

Speaking Monday in Jerusalem to leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Netanyahu said he would press ahead with plans to speak March 3 to the U.S. Congress even though the speech has roiled the U.S. capital.

“I think the real question that should be asked is how could any responsible Israeli prime minister refuse to speak to Congress on a matter so important to Israel’s survival?” Netanyahu said. “How could anyone refuse an invitation to speak on a matter that could affect our very existence when such an invitation is offered?”

Netanyahu also sparked controversy with his comments after the weekend attacks in Copenhagen that killed two people, including a synagogue security guard.

“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world,” Netanyahu said, “I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”

In both cases, Netanyahu stuck with highly charged messages along with his repeated insistence that his top responsibility — even more than pleasing allies — is to speak out when Israeli security and Jewish safety are at stake.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, added fuel to the controversy over Netanyahu’s speech when he told Fox News over the weekend that he purposely kept President Barack Obama out of the loop regarding the invitation to the Israeli prime minister.

“It is no secret here in Washington about the animosity this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Boehner said. “I simply didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.”

Boehner issued Netanyahu the invitation without consulting with the White House, notifying it just an hour or so before he issued the announcement on Jan. 21. Boehner also did not notify Democrats, and much of the pro-Israel community was kept out of the loop, too.

Top Obama administration officials have said they will not meet with Netanyahu in part because he is speaking just two weeks before Israel’s election and appearing with him would be inappropriate.

Netanyahu said that the looming March 24 deadline for an outline of an agreement between Iran and the major world powers trumped any other timing issue. That date is what “drives the speech,” he told U.S. Jewish leaders.

“Now is the time for Israel to make its case – now before it’s too late,” Netanyahu said. “Would it be better to complain about a deal that threatens the security of Israel after it’s signed?”

U.S. officials including Obama have said that any likely deal will leave Iran with the capacity to enrich uranium, albeit at a civilian scale. Netanyahu insists that even at minimum levels, an ability to enrich leaves Iran with breakout capacity.

Details of what minimum enrichment would look like have been leaked to the Israeli media, and the Washington Post reported Monday that this has led infuriated U.S. negotiators to limit what they convey to the Israelis after each session with the Iranians.

Netanyahu’s response, again, has been to intimate that the urgency of keeping Iran from going nuclear outweighs the niceties of keeping secret briefings from what both sides have agreed is an extraordinarily close defense and intelligence relationship.

“Just as Iran knows what kind of agreement is being offered, it’s only natural that Israel should know the details of the deal being formulated,” he told Haaretz as he headed into the meeting with the Presidents Conference. “But if there are those who think this is a good agreement, why must it be hidden?”

Officials on both sides have taken pains to assert that the strength of the relationship persists.

After news of U.S. plans to withhold information first made headlines in Israel, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz issued a statement noting that he recently met with the top two U.S. officials consulting on the Iran talks — Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state leading the U.S. side in the talks, and Phillip Gordon of the National Security Council.

The sides had differences, Steinitz said in his statement, but the meeting Monday with Gordon was in “a good and friendly atmosphere” and another one with Sherman a week earlier included a lengthy one-on-one session – code meant to convey that the United States was still sharing sensitive information.

Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, also was at pains to say that the defense and intelligence-sharing relationship persisted at full strength.

“Whether it be in the intelligence sphere, where we have reached new heights of intelligence sharing and cooperation, or with respect to joint training and readiness, our two defense establishments and our two fighting forces have never been closer,” Shapiro said at the annual conference of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

He acknowledged, however, that there were “hot-button issues defining this election season,” but deferred to others at the conference to address them.

After his 2012 reelection, Obama said he would be tougher on Israel, one of his top advisers, David Axelrod, wrote in a book published this month titled “Believer: My Forty Years In Politics.”

Axelrod, who is Jewish, said Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, but he “felt he had pulled his punches with Netanyahu to avoid antagonizing elements of the American Jewish community.” CNN reported on the Israel sections of the book.

At the same time that the debate over Netanyahu’s speech to Congress raged on, the Israeli prime minister also found himself on the receiving end of criticism regarding his call for European Jews to consider making aliyah following the attacks in Copenhagen.

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home,” Netanyahu said. “We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are, Israel is the home of every Jew.”

Netanyahu made the statement on Sunday morning before Israel’s Cabinet approved a $46 million plan to encourage immigration and adapt the absorption process to Jews from France, Belgium and Ukraine.

In response, Denmark Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior said, “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel.”

Israel’s former president, Shimon Peres, sounded a similar note, telling more than 1,000 attendees at the Times of Israel gala in New York on Sunday that Jews should come to Israel “because you want to live in Israel.”

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt visited the synagogue late Sunday morning, laying a bouquet of flowers at its gate and vowing that Denmark “will do everything” it can to protect its Jewish community.

“Jews are a very important part of Danish society,” she said earlier at a news conference. “I say to the Jewish community, you are not alone.”

Netanyahu has pushed forward with such calls for aliyah, even as he works to cultivate close ties with European leaders in his bid to head off what he sees as a bad Iran deal, and also to limit the influence of those in Europe calling for boycotts of Israel because of its policies regarding the Palestinians.

One of Israel’s main allies in both spheres is France, perhaps the most hawkish of the six major powers negotiating with Iran. Still, Netanyahu has irked the French with the immigration plan passed Sunday, budgeting for an expected surge in aliyah from France in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris last month. The attacks included the siege of a kosher supermarket in which a terrorist killed four Jews.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls rejected Netanyahu’s call for European immigration to Israel, saying, “My message to French Jews is the following: France is wounded with you and France does not want you to leave.”

Obama’s Chutzpah

In an exchange that is reminiscent of a school yard fight or a childish disagreement,the Obama Administration chastised the Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not informing the White House before accepting an invitation from the Speaker of the House John Boehner to address a Joint Session of Congress on a pivotal subject concerning the security of the State of Israel as well as the United States. Namely, the  urgency of  reinstating more sanctions against the Iranian government  in order to curtail its devious nuclear program before it attempts to strike the Jewish State and the rest of western civilization.  Apparently, Mr. Obama is so insulted by the purpose of the Netanyahu Congressional speech that the White House  has admonished Mr. Netanyahu that he will have an unspecified  'price to pay' if he addresses Congress.

Certainly, 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, it is within the Israeli Prime-Minister's diplomatic rights to accept an invitation to speak in front of any legislative body  to warn the world of the dangers of  a potential Iranian nuclear Holocaust if concrete action is not taken immediately. Furthermore, as the business of the Congress now rests in the hands of the Republican party, the Obama White House no longer has any  jurisdiction to mettle in the affairs of the Republican Congress' decision to invite Prime-Minister Netanyahu to its corridors. Just as President Obama can invite anyone he desires to the White House, Speaker Boehner has the absolute right to invite any world leader  he chooses to speak in front of a Republican Joint Session of Congress without first securing the approval of the Obama White House.  More importantly, Mr. Netanyahu  is a grown man and is not attached to the coattails of President Obama. He is not  subject to the whimsical demands of the Obama Administration or required to coordinate his travel arrangements or speaking engagements on U.S. soil with the Obama Administration  unless  of course  Mr. Netanyahu envisioned meeting with President Obama.  However, we now know that any such encounter is not  in the cards as both the President  and the Secretary of State have emphatically stated that they will not meet with Mr. Netanyahu during his upcoming visit to Washington in March.

Moreover, in what amounts to pure unmitigated chutzpah, Mr. Obama has created a counterproductive rift in U.S.-Israel relations by inferring that Mr.  Netanyahu has disrespected the Obama administration by bypassing the President of the United States in order to speak to a more accepting audience in Congress. Yet,  even if that sentiment were true which it is not, President Obama does not have any credibility whatsoever to accuse the Prime- Minister of orchestrating a presidential snub. President Obama has his own long history of departing from diplomatic protocol to humiliate the Israeli Prime-Minister as an expression of disgust for Prime-Minister Netanyahu's policies.

In 2010  in an expression of misplaced outrage at Israel's settlement policy, Mr. Obama denied Prime-Minister Netanyahu any photo-ops or press conference with the President during his White House  meeting which is a rarity. Moreover, it was reported that President Obama abruptly left Mr. Netanyahu alone  during that 2010 meeting with his aides while he had dinner with his family. One Congressmen described President Obama's treatment of Prime-Minister Netanyahu during that 2010 meeting as being “reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea.” In 2012, when Prime-Minister Netanyahu was visiting New York City for his U.N. General Assembly speech, President Obama opted  for an appearance on the David Letterman show instead of meeting with Prime-Minister Netanyahu. More recently, it was leaked that an unrevealed White House official labeled Prime-Minister Netanyahu as “chickensh*t .” On other occasions, White House officials have referred to Mr. Netanyahu as “pompous, recalcitrant, obtuse, blustering and aspergery.”

Perhaps, the most glaring rejection of the Israeli Prime Minister has been  Mr. Obama's consistent refusal to accept Mr. Netanyahu's sensible  and critical position that pursuing open-ended negotiations  with a tyrannical regime without the prospect of  renewed sanctions only provides Iran with more uranium to build its nuclear weapons which greatly undermines Israel's security. Despite the necessity of Prime-Minister Netanyahu's position,  President Obama continues to expect that Prime-Minister Netanyahu accommodate  the White House's overtures to Iran even when the lives of Israeli citizens are in grave danger which is the epitome of arrogance.

As President Obama has an unyielding myopic vision for dealing with Iran, Prime-Minister Netanyahu had no other alternative but to align himself with a U.S Congress eager to confront the President on his misguided Iran policy.

Unfortunately, it now appears that President Obama is working behind the scenes to divide the U.S. Congress and encourage Democrats including U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden to boycott Prime-Minister Netanyahu's congressional speech effectively rendering support for Israel a partisan issue which it never used to be.

It is therefore President Obama- not Mr. Netanyahu- who has engaged in dicey politics at the expense of America's closest ally Israel.  

Brad E. Kauffman is an attorney, writer  and Pro-Israel activist

Netanyahu’s planned speech roils Jewish lawmakers, pro-Israel community

When Israel wants something from the United States, it typically makes three stops: the pro-Israel lobby, Jewish members of Congress and the White House.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored all three when he accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address Congress about U.S. Iran policy.

Neither congressional Jews nor the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were notified of the speech, much less consulted. The White House found out three hours before Boehner announced the address on Jan. 21.

The result: Muted yet palpable discomfiture among the three sectors that Israel relies on to ensure continued support from Washington.

Israeli officials say  the need to influence the United States on an issue of existential importance overrides the need for niceties in this case. But congressional staffers and pro-Israel officials say such niceties are critical if Israel is going to be persuasive.

Ken Goldstein, an expert on congressional politics and the pro-Israel community at the University of San Francisco, said Netanyahu and his U.S. envoy Ron Dermer put Jewish lawmakers — most of them Democrats — in a tight spot.

“I will agree with Ambassador Dermer that this is a phenomenally important issue. Given that, is this the best strategy?” Goldstein told JTA. “It puts everyone in a difficult position, and doing your job is not to put someone in a difficult position.”

The White House reaction to last week’s announcement was public and sharp, describing the speech as a breach of protocol and saying Obama and other top officials would not meet Netanyahu during his visit. The day before Boehner’s announcement, Obama had promised in his State of the Union speech to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, which Netanyahu is expected to lobby in favor of during his U.S. trip.

The reaction from the pro-Israel lobby and the Jewish congressional caucus has been more muted, at least on the record, but sources close to both said bypassing them undercut their effectiveness and made little long-term sense for Israel. Jewish lawmakers are traditionally the first address for pro-Israel lobbying on Capitol Hill, reflecting a tradition of deferring to lawmakers belonging to the ethnic and regional minorities most vested in a particular issue.

“The bottom line is, it would have been smarter to consult,” said a source close to AIPAC.

Other sources told JTA that Dermer, who is suspected of helping to orchestrate the Boehner invitation, also bore some responsibility.

“Netanyahu is not being well served by who he sent here,” said one Democratic congressional staffer.

The Israeli Embassy did not reply to requests for comment, except to note that Boehner’s official invitation was made in the name of both parties. Top Democratic officials say Boehner did that without consulting them. Boehner’s office has not responded.

In a speech to an Israel Bonds gala in Florida on Sunday, Dermer said getting the Iran message across was too critical to reject Boehner’s invitation. He also lauded Obama’s defense and intelligence cooperation with Israel and said bipartisan support for Israel was appreciated.

“The prime minister’s visit to Washington is intended for one purpose and one purpose only — to speak up while there is still time to speak up,” Dermer said. “To speak up when there is still time to make a difference.”

Netanyahu’s speech, which is scheduled for March 3 after being bumped back quickly from its original Feb. 11 date — coincides with AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington. It also comes two weeks before Israeli elections.

Netanyahu supports Republicans and a number of Democrats who argue that more sanctions will increase Western leverage on Iran. But Obama has countered that increasing sanctions now would drive Iran from the current negotiations with world powers over its nuclear program.

Right-wing groups — including the Zionist Organization of America, the Emergency Committee for Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition — have defended Boehner and Netanyahu, as did the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.).

“Inviting the prime minister of Israel to address Congress should never be viewed as undercutting America’s foreign policy,” Zeldin said in an email to JTA. “When that is the case then there is something wrong with America’s foreign policy.”

Most Jewish Democrats contacted by JTA confined their criticism to Boehner.

“Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East, deserves our continued bipartisan support and the prime minister is always welcome,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “Moving forward, the speaker must improve his coordination with the president and minority leader.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee, accused the speaker of “political gamesmanship.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who for years has backed strong Iran sanctions, said one problem was a breakdown in communications between the White House and the GOP leadership.

“It was not what would have occurred if the legislative branch and the executive branch worked better together in general and on foreign policy in particular,” Sherman said. “Those of us in the pro-Israel community don’t want to see Israel be a partisan football.”

The closest thing to criticism of Netanyahu personally came from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who last year authored legislation enhancing U.S.-Israel security cooperation. A staffer wrote in an email that Boxer “feels the same way about this invitation/speech that she felt about Netanyahu’s comments before the 2012 U.S. election.”

Two months before the ’12 vote, Netanyahu said Obama did not have a “moral right” to keep Israel from acting on Iran. In response, Boxer wrote to Netanyahu and said he had “injected politics into one of the most profound security issues of our time.”

Where’s my check, Mr. Boehner?

Oh, thank you soooooo much! Some Republican members of Congress suddenly remembered they were Americans. Whoa, guys, that one was way too close. But thank you for postponing the end of this country for a few months. That way, holiday sales won’t suffer from wary consumers, just back from the Great Recession, slamming their wallets shut.

I am so tired of this dangerous nonsense.

I was wondering how so many people (who would be considered toxic misfits if they behaved the same way outside of Congress as they have in the House) could have been elected. This group of partisan fringe “true believers” has temporarily been beaten back in their crusade to impose their loony and dangerous ideas on the rest of America.

I also wonder how these Tea Party folks were raised. Most people are given limits and are expected to learn how to respect the limits of others. They also learn to raise their hand when they have something to contribute.  In this case, we have adults who have chosen to do whatever they want to do and to delight in the consequences to all Americans, as long as the Tea Party gets its own way. They were betting that Americans were more afraid of the Tea Party’s threats than they were afraid of an economic holocaust.

“Loser” is not in their vocabulary. When they were flattened by the steamroller of the vast majority of Americans (74 per cent) who say they disapprove of the Republican actions over the past few weeks, Tea Party stalwarts like Ted Cruz of Texas simply turn the facts on their heads and declare that the  American people are against Obama. Yet the targeted Affordable Health Care Act is the law with the Supreme Court refusing to diminish or repeal the Act.

All of this petulant and childish behavior brought us to the brink of economic extinction. The closer we got to the Tea Party’s “weapon of mass destruction,” (as Warren Buffet called the possible default) the greater the glee for the Tea Party.

Instead of using these next few months to develop a compromise, the Democrats should continue on the path set out by Obama: find more ways to just shut down the Tea Party. Any organized group that intends to harm this country through its actions, could be called a terrorist group. They attack the innocent civilians and leave a wake of misery wherever they go. It is not their misery, but that of all other Americans.

I have a few suggestions. They should have the same health insurance limitations as those faced by their constituents. They should take no more than three weeks vacation each year and be forced to retire on their anemic retirement accounts. Their children should be required to attend public schools as an act of patriotism and then be expected to do their duty in the military. They should pay the same taxes, receive the same benefits as those who elected them. Bank loans should be nearly impossible to get, even for Congress. 

During a campaign, the wealthy candidates may spend as much as they choose but their opponents will then receive matching funds from the IRS. If a law exists, they must follow it the same way those who voted for them must follow it. If they attack an established law such as the right to an abortion, they should be fined the same amount that it costs to raise a child to age 18. In this case, the rights of law abiding citizens to act in a legal manner trumps the free speech rights of those who would diminish the rights of others.

With less than a five percent approval rating from the voters, all members of this Congress should pack their bags and not let the door hit them on the way out. They have proven that they enjoy playing with matches, as long it is only other people who get burned.

Finally, unless supported by legitimate polls, any member of Congress who falsely claims to be speaking for the American people should be placed immediately on the next un- air conditioned bus headed for their home.  The American people let their opinions be known with no help needed from those who would profit from manipulation of the facts.

This latest Republican-created crisis cost the American people about $24 billion. Clearly, that money should be repaid by those who caused the financial losses. So, Mr. Boehner, where’s my check?

U.S. Supreme Court upholds Obama healthcare law centerpiece

A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare overhaul law that requires that most Americans get insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s majority in the opinion.

“Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” he concluded. The vote was 5-4.

In another part of the decision and in a blow to the White House, a different majority on the court struck down the provision of the law that requires the states to dramatically expand the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

The upholding of the insurance purchase requirement, known as the “individual mandate,” was a major election-year victory for Obama, a historic ruling on the law that aimed to extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

The 2010 law constituted the $2.6 trillion U.S. healthcare system’s biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years.

Critics of the law had said it meddles too much in the lives of individuals and in the business of the states.

Twenty-six of the 50 U.S. states and a small business trade group challenged the law in court. The Supreme Court in March heard three days of historic arguments over the law’s fate.

The court’s ruling on the law could figure prominently in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election in which Obama seeks a second four-year term against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who opposed the law.

ESPN pulls Hank Williams Jr. MNF intro over Hitler remark

ESPN pulled its “Monday Night Football” introduction by Hank Williams Jr. after the singer compared President Obama to Hitler.

The song was pulled from the introduction to Monday night’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

ESPN said in a statement that it would remove the song for one game and decide what to do in the future based on an apology from Williams.

During an appearance Monday on “Fox and Friends,” Williams said that Obama’s golf outing with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner was like “Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

The singer’s hit “All my Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Monday Night” has been the “Monday Night Football” introduction for the past 23 seasons.

“While Hank Williams Jr. is not an ESPN employee, we recognize that he is closely linked to our company through the open to ‘Monday Night Football,’ ” the network said in its statement. “We are extremely disappointed with his comments, and as a result we have decided to pull the open from tonight’s telecast.”

Williams released a statement late Monday explaining that he was “misunderstood.”

“Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood,” the statement said in part. My analogy was extreme—but it was to make a point. I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me—how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites and it made no sense. They don’t see eye to eye and never will. I have always respected the office of the President.”

The Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday praised ESPN for its decision to pull the Williams intro.

“ESPN responded appropriately and did the right thing in pulling the Hank Williams Jr. football song from the airwaves,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor. “The Holocaust was a singular event in human history, and it is an insult to the memory of the millions who died as a result of Hitler’s plan of mass extermination to compare the Nazi dictator to any American president.”

Responding to the Williams statement, Foxman said the singer “should know better.”

“He owes an apology to Holocaust survivors, their families, and the brave American soldiers who gave of themselves to fight the Nazi menace during World War II,” Foxman said.

Obama to host Netanyahu at White House

President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House for talks.

The meeting will be held on May 20 in the Oval Office, and the effort to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process reportedly will be the main item on the agenda.

“The leaders look forward to discussing the full range of issues of mutual interest to the United States and Israel,” the White House said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu will be in Washington to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference on May 21. He is also scheduled to address both houses of Congress in a joint meeting, at the invitation of Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on May 23 is expected to outline his plans for peace with the Palestinians.

Boehner to invite Netanyahu to address Congress

Rep. John Boehner, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said he plans to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress.

“It will be a great honor for Congress to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu next month as part of his official visit to the United States,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.  “America and Israel are the closest of friends and allies, and we look forward to hearing the Prime Minister’s views on how we can continue working together for peace, freedom, and stability.”

Boehner said the visit would be timed for May, when Netanyahu is expected to visit Washington to speak to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

His office has hinted that he will unveil at that time a new peace proposal aimed at drawing back the Palestinian Authority into direct talks, which it abandoned in September because of Netanyahu’s refusal to extend a partial freeze on settlement building.

Boehner must submit his request to both Houses for approval.

Netanyahu addressed Congress once before in 1996. Other Israeli prime ministers who have addressed Congress include the late Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert.