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  February 5, 2015

Some Democrats Considering Boycott of Netanyahu's Address to Congress

TRNN's Jessica Desvarieux interviews Congressmen who are split on the move, and also talks to Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, who says this potential boycott reveals that America is not one-minded on Israel
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Jessica Desvarieux is a multimedia journalist who serves as the Capitol Hill correspondent for the Real News Network. Most recently, Jessica worked as a producer for the ABC Sunday morning program, This Week with Christianne Amanpour. Before moving to Washington DC, Jessica served as the Haiti corespondent for TIME Magazine and Previously, she was as an on-air reporter for New York tri-state cable outlet Regional News Network, where she worked before the 2010 earthquake struck her native country of Haiti. From March 2008 - September 2009, she lived in Egypt, where her work appeared in various media outlets like the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the International Herald Tribune - Daily News Egypt. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a Master of Science degree in journalism. She is proficient in French, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and has a working knowledge of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Follow her @Jessica_Reports.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Behind the closed doors of Wednesday's Senate luncheon, senators gathered to show their support for more bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. But an issue that is splitting not just the two parties apart, but the Democratic Party itself, is next month's planned address of Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress. Some senators, like Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, said he may not attended. And he's not alone.

DICK DURBIN, U.S. SENATOR (D-IL): --colleagues are very concerned about it, and I'm troubled by that. I just think it's a serious mistake by the speaker and the prime minister. The relationship between Israel and the United States has been so strong, so bipartisan, one of my closest friends, strongest supporters of Israel, described this Boehner tactic as a disaster, a terrible disaster.

DESVARIEUX: On the House side, Democratic representative Steve Cohen said to Politico that he too is having his doubts about attending, calling the invitation a mistake. He said, "I just think it's a mistake and it might be a proper protest. But I haven't made that definite decision."

But what is definite is President Obama's stance. He's already declined to meet with Netanyahu while in Washington, and now Vice President Joe Biden says he will not be in attendance, despite being at Netanyahu's last joint session meeting in 2011.

But for Institute for Policy Studies fellow Phyllis Bennis, the story is much deeper than just partisan politics. A boycott would hold historical significance.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: What is really important is that this is forcing a lot of people in and around Congress to recognize for the first time that Israel does not have the same goal regarding Iran that the United States does. And this flies in the face of all the media coverage. And it flies in the face of something that Secretary of State John Kerry said just a few days ago when he was trying to tamp down the hysteria going on around this thing. And he said, listen, the U.S. and Israel share the identical goal about Iran preventing them from getting nuclear weapons. We just disagree on how to get there. Well, the problem is that is not Israel's goal. And this is forcing members of Congress, the administration, to acknowledge that.

DESVARIEUX: Most of the senators seem to be still saying they would be attending, like New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. And New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said he'll probably be attending as well. But there were even some Republicans who seem to be hedging whether or not they would be in attendance, like chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tennessee Republican Bob Corker.

BOB CORKER, CHAIR, U.S. SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: At present I will say that we've had leaders who've come to the House before to speak to all of us, and I've had conflicts and haven't been able to go. So, look, we all are busy, and it's like that now.

DESVARIEUX: The Real News caught up with Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham to get his thoughts about some colleagues not committing to attend.

LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR (R-SC): I think it's a mistake. You're buying into a partisan construct that doesn't exist. But it's up to you. Every member's got to figure out what's best. But I think it's a mistake. There's plenty of times I don't want to go listen to certain people but I do it because I think it's best.

DESVARIEUX: What's best is still up for debate. The Real News asked Arizona Senator John McCain for his take on critiques of Netanyahu's planned address.


DESVARIEUX: Senator McCain, what do you make of the critique that people say Netanyahu addressing the Congress could derail negotiation between the United States and Iran?

JOHN MCCAIN, U.S. SENATOR (R-AZ): I think that they're smoking something that is legal in some states. What in the world that would have to do with derailing the negotiations is ludicrous. There is no confidence on the part of Republicans in the negotiations that are going on. We believe they've already given away, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, too much. That's why we want to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu.


DESVARIEUX: Bennis said that this viewpoint is based on the past and not reality.

BENNIS: There is no political price ever to be paid for supporting Israel. That you can never support Israel too much, that is simply not the case anymore. We're certainly not seeing a policy shift yet. I don't want to [incompr.] this. We still have $3.1 billion a year in military aid. We still have Israeli access to all the excess bombs, bullets, ammunition, planes they want, need, etc. We still have full support for Israel in the United Nations so they are never held accountable for potential war crimes. That has not changed.

What has changed is the politics of it. It is no longer political suicide in Washington or elsewhere around this country to criticize Israel. And, unfortunately for them, I think McCain and Graham don't recognize that.

DESVARIEUX: Back on Capitol Hill after the luncheon wrapped up, it was clear Democrats and Republicans did not want to discuss this touchy issue.


CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATOR (D-NY): Why don't we stick to the subject of this lunch, as opposed to other stuff?

DESVARIEUX: Did it come up at all?

JEFF FLAKE, U.S. SENATOR (R-AZ): It did not.


DESVARIEUX: Last week, Schumer, along with at least ten Senate Democrats, sent the president a letter. They said that they will not support final passage of a sanctions bill until March 24. That's the deadline for Iran and the West to strike a deal. But Bennis says those members of Congress who support sanctions would be also supporting war with Iran.

BENNIS: What those in this country who want sanctions are saying is that we want sanctions to impose on Iran an agreement in which they would agree to give up all ability and rights to produce uranium. They're just not going to do that. It's not going to happen. That's not the basis for negotiations. That's the basis for surrender. We're not going to get surrender.

So the question is: do we want a negotiated settlement where we will get a lot of things and Iran will get some things and there will not be an Iranian nuclear weapon ever in the future? Or do we want to scuttle the negotiations so they collapse and the only alternative we will then hear from people like McCain and Graham and others who support sanctions now is, hey, we gave it our best shot negotiations; now we have to go to war.

DESVARIEUX: For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.

Please note that the video remarks that the deadline for the Iran nuclear negotiations are in March, but in actuality it is the deadline for a political framework. The self-imposed March 24 deadline by the senators in their letter corresponds with the conclusion of the next round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group. The deadline for a final agreement is July 1, 2015.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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