Meeks boycotts Netanyahu speech

By Bill Parry

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) joined almost 60 other congressional members and senators to boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday on negotiations with Iran.

Netanyahu’s trip, scheduled through House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office without notifying President Obama in advance, has drawn fire from Democrats who have argued it was intended to undercut the White House and its position on nuclear talks with Iran.

Before the Netanyu speech, Meeks released a statement saying: “Just two weeks shy of an election in Israel, and without advance notice to the administration, the House Republican leadership has broken protocol and invited the prime minister to speak before Congress. It is a breach of decorum for Republicans to break established norms and the bipartisan spirit of cooperation that we have had toward Israel, and I am disappointed in my colleagues for engaging our allies in domestic partisan politics.”

Meeks insisted he was still a strong supporter of Israel.

On Monday morning there were more than 30 House members and senators who were not attending the speech, but in less than 24 hours the number jumped to nearly 60, according to tabulations made by the TimesLedger.

The Israeli leader’s U.S. visit took place as two important dates loomed: March 17 when Israel will hold parliamentary elections and March 31, the deadline in the U.S.-led negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

“These negotiations are but one possible means of addressing Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and the administration has been clear that all options are on the table,” Meeks said after the Netanyahu speech. “I hope that Congress can move forward with the tradition of bipartisan support for Israel, and work closely with President Obama in our national security interests above all else.”

The rest of the Queens delegation attended Netanyahu’s speech in which he warned against the “bad deal” being negotiated with Iran and criticized Obama’s decision to pursue a diplomatic initiative to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said, “While I strongly disagree with how Speaker Boehner tried to politicize the situation, Israel remains one of our most important allies and I felt it was important to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address.”

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) also attended Netanyahu’s speech and called it “strong,” although the process of inviting him to speak to Congress lacked protocol. “I think it’s important to place yourself in Israel’s shoes and (know) how they feel with this threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb,” she said. “I think he conveyed a message to Congress that needs to be conveyed.”

In western Queens, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said she agreed that the U.S.-Israeli relationship should remain above politics. “I appreciate the sincerity of the prime minister’s views,” she said. “Democrats and Republicans agree that an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable. As the next deadline for the talks approaches, I am hopeful for a strong agreement, but I am equally prepared to join my colleagues to support additional sanctions if such an agreement is not reached.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville), who represents a portion of northeast Queens, was part of the official escort committee for the prime minister. “I’ve been skeptical of a deal with Iran before Netanyahu’s speech,” he said. “I was skeptical during his speech and I remain skeptical after the speech.”

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.