WASHINGTON: The National Council of Churches is troubled by the plans for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the United States Congress next month. We call upon House Speaker John Boehner to rescind his ill-advised invitation, or, in the absence of Mr. Boehner’s decision to do so, we urge Mr. Netanyahu to cancel his address.
We agree with the multitude of commentators who have noted that this is an extraordinary breach of protocol, and that it is unacceptable for a foreign leader to circumvent normal diplomatic channels, or be allowed by others in leadership to circumvent them, and thereby disrespect the Office of the President of the United States. We support those who have decided not to attend, like Vice President (and President of the Senate) Joseph Biden and Representative John Lewis.
President Barack Obama has stated that it is the position of the United States to refrain from allowing access to US Government leaders to influence elections in other countries. With Israeli elections next month, just two weeks after the proposed Congressional address, Mr. Boehner has disregarded this position, by offering Mr. Netanyahu a platform almost like no other in the final days of his campaign for reelection. This is lamentable enough. What is more egregious is the tacit support this gives to Mr. Netanyahu’s policies, including unbridled settlement building and expansion into Palestinian territory. Whether stated or unstated, this amounts to support for policies that erode the chances for a genuine two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the official position of the United States, and which is the only viable means to establish a just peace. To support policies that militate against peace is thus morally indefensible.
At the same time, Mr. Boehner is giving Mr. Netanyahu a platform from which to directly contradict the position of the Administration with regard to negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran. While there may be different perspectives on this matter, Mr. Boehner’s invitation would seem to be a partisan move to further the position of critics of these negotiations. Again, there are moral implications to this move. The NCC has long advocated for engagement with the Iranian Government, especially with regard to the nuclear question, as engagement is the best means to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. To create a high-profile event using the presence of the Israeli Prime Minister to inveigh against these negotiations is therefore to take a stand against the prospects for peace. Again, this is morally indefensible.