Much of the Congressional Black Caucus has decided to ignore Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress about the impending Iranian nuclear threat, insisting that their insult is justified by what they call Netanyahu’s ”disrespect” of Barack Obama.
GOP Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak without asking Obama for his approval, and black politicians are taking umbrage with what they perceive as a slight to Obama.
The push to embarrass Netanyahu was launched by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) last week, after which Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and others joined the chorus. Some members of the CBC are attempting to schedule a private meeting with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer or Netanyahu when the prime minister visits Washington.
Some of the choice quotes from CBC members included:
- Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA): “It’s not just about disrespect for the president, it’s disrespect for the American people and our system of government for a foreign leader to insert himself into a issue that our policymakers are grappling with. It’s not simply about President Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader. It’s deeper than that.”
- Rep. Greg Meeks: “To me, it is somewhat of an insult to the president of the United States. Barack Obama is my president. He’s the nation’s president, and it is clear, therefore, that I’m not going to be there, as a result of that, not as a result of the good people of Israel.”
- CBC chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC): “CBC members are willing certainty to meet with any representative of Israel. We understand Israel’s plight, and we support the state of Israel. “ But he, too, said the matter was about “respect,” sniffing, “I don’t hold Netanyahu responsible. I hold Speaker Boehner responsible, but I would hope that Mr. Netanyahu would not want to get involved. I personally think it is disrespectful.”
- Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA): “It is very disrespectful to this president, and what concerns me more is that I think it’s a pattern that is starting to develop from this speaker that we’re getting more and more disrespectful of the office of the presidency. I think it’s silly and petty.”
- Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) responded to a query asking if black politicians saw the speech as an insult to Obama by answering, “I think they kind of think it is.”
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Boehner, replied, “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming visit isn’t about Speaker Boehner, and it’s not about President Obama. At this critical moment it’s important that the American people hear from Israel about the grave threats posed by Iran and Islamic radicalism.”
Other CBC members who have decided not to attend the Prime Minister’s speech include: Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Charles Rangel (NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX). and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC).
CBC member Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) co-wrote a letter to Boehner calling for the speech to be postponed.
Johnson was virulent in his denunciation of Dermer, calling him a “longtime, right-wing political hack,” and adding he would not even meet with either Dermer or Netanyahu. He snapped, “I don’t think I would be willing to come to such a meeting, Not at that time, and under this condition, no.”