Congress, show respect for our closest ally

Yes, it was ineptly arranged. Yes, it veers from protocol. Yes, it angered politicians normally supportive of Israel. Nevertheless, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address about the threat of a nuclear Iran before a joint session of Congress a go, it’s time to put partisan snits aside. All members of Congress should attend on Tuesday.

Unquestionably, Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was an unseemly end-run around the White House and congressional Democrats. Given the frosty relationship between the prime minister and President Obama, Boehner’s unilateral action exacerbated a perception that support for Israel has become a partisan issue.

That is a perception neither Israel nor the United States can afford.

The president has said he will not meet with Netanyahu, citing the visit’s proximity to Israel’s March 17 elections. That is his right. Vice President Joe Biden also has said, presumably in solidarity with his boss, that he will not meet with the Israeli prime minister, nor will he attend the speech in Congress — also his right, and not inappropriate.

That’s where it should stop.

Some D.C. insiders continue to dwell on the effrontery of it all. At last count, 27 congressional Democrats were saying they planned to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. National Security Adviser Susan Rice this week said the speech would prove “destructive” to Israeli-American ties. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has said he is motivated by an obligation to “do everything I can to prevent” a nuclear agreement with Iran.

We’re not talking here about North Korea, Yemen or some other medieval dictatorship. We’re talking about America’s closest ally in the Middle East, the region’s only democracy. Whether members of Congress like Netanyahu, or whether they approve of his accepting Boehner’s invitation, as head of state of a close ally he merits respect.

Two top Senate Democrats, Dick Durbin of Illinois and California’s Dianne Feinstein, got it right on Feb. 23 when they asked Netanyahu for a closed-door meeting with the party caucus to alleviate the tensions. Such a meeting would, they wrote, help “to maintain Israel’s dialogue with political parties in Congress” and preserve “the important bipartisan approach to Israel.”

Netanyahu, unfortunately, declined their offer, missing an important opportunity. Let’s not do the same.

The critics have said their piece. Ruffled feathers have had enough time to unruffle. Now this country’s elected officials should get their priorities straight, drop the partisanship and show at least basic respect for one of our closest allies.

Members of Congress, go to the speech. No one’s forcing you to applaud. n