A set piece of the annual gathering of one of the most powerful political lobbies in Washington is the “roll call” of support in Congress for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac).
Members of Congress are invited to stand one by one to be acknowledged for their support for Israel, or for Aipac’s hawkish brand of it. It typically takes half an hour as the names of around two-thirds of representatives and senators are called. It is intended to demonstrate that on one issue at least, the Jewish state, there are no partisan differences. It is also a reminder of the lock Aipac has long had on Congress with a menacing suggestion of the political risks of going against the lobby group.
But as Aipac’s convention opens, the carefully forged image of Democrats and Republicans at one on Israel has been battered by the furious reaction to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress on Tuesday, when he is expected to accuse Barack Obama of endangering the very existence of the Jewish state in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Nearly 30 members have said they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech in protest at the extraordinary spectacle of Republicans inviting a foreign leader to Washington to denounce the president. They have described Netanyahu’s decision to speak as “sabotage” and “extremely dangerous”.
The dispute has also divided some of America’s most prominent Jewish organisations, with accusations flying of betrayal. But through it all Aipac has been all but silent as it struggles with the implications of the breach in the bipartisan wall as members of Congress with strong records of support for Israel challenge Netanyahu.
Some Democrats accuse Netanyahu and the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, of using the speech to help the Israeli prime minister to bolster support ahead of this month’s general election, while the Republicans try to discredit Obama by undermining the president’s prerogatives on foreign policy.
Congressman Steve Cohen described the planned speech as “political theatre” that has “caused a breach between Democrats in Congress and Israel as well as the administrations of the United States and Israel”.
“While Americans and members of Congress may disagree on anything, even foreign policy, providing a forum of such immense prestige and power to the leader of another country who is opposing our nation’s foreign policy is beyond the pale,” he said.
Read more at:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/28/binyamin-netanyahu-congress-speech-israel