Bass passes on Netanyahu address; debate surrounds prime minister’s visit

Rep. Karen Bass

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Culver City) did not attend a controversial speech before Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Feb. 3 because she was in Los Angeles.

Bass was in town to support her former protégé Marqueese Harris Dawson, who was a candidate for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. (The News went to press before the results of the election were announced.) Harris-Dawson took over for Bass as the executive director of the Community Coalition, an organization that Bass founded in 1990 to influence public policy and transform the economic conditions of South Los Angeles.

“I will be unable to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress because I will be in Los Angeles for an important election that will impact the 37th Congressional District. I am excited that a young man whom I have worked with for over 20 years is a leading candidate for an important Los Angeles City Council election,” the congresswoman said in a statement.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) – in what many Republican and Democratic foreign policy experts described as unprecedented- invited Netanyahu to address Congress last month on whether or not the United States should attempt to negotiate a deal with Iran that would limit that country’s nuclear capabilities without notifying the White House.

The Israeli prime minister has publicly disagreed with the White House’s strategy on Iran and believes any deal with ran should include them ending their nuclear program. He has been heavily criticized here and in Israel for what many considered a highly partisan address that was viewed by many Democrats as lobbying Congress to act against President Obama’s Iran strategy.

Bass joined 47 of her Democratic House of Representatives colleagues and seven Democratic senators in not attending Netanyahu’s address, which came two weeks before elections in Israel where the prime minister is locked in a tougher than expected campaigns.

The California Republican Congressional Delegation did attend the address.

A March 1 Los Angeles Times editorial urged Democrats who were considering not attending Netanyahu’s speech to reconsider because  “Netanyahu deserves a respectful hearing even if the auspices of his appearance are exasperating. Like other nations in the region, Israel has understandable concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran.”

“My support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has been consistent during my entire time in elected office, and that support will only continue in the years to come,” Bass said. “Support for Israel has traditionally been a non-partisan issue, and I want it to remain so.”

“Unfortunately, Speaker Boehner mishandled inviting Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech is now marred with controversy,” the congresswoman asserted. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has been provided with other options to talk with members of Congress, but he has turned them down to do the public speech. It is truly sad that Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu have chosen to play partisan and divisive politics.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R- Bakersfield) issued a statement after Netanyahu spoke to Congress. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress was an important moment for our country and for Israel. I am encouraged by the bipartisan reception given to the Prime Minister, and hope all Americans focus on the substance of the Prime Minister’s concerns,” McCarthy wrote. 

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken a day before the address showed 48 percent of Americans disagreed with Boehner inviting Netanyahu to speak before Congress. Typical of the acrimonious and highly partisan nature of Washington politics, 47 percent of Republicans surveyed said they agree with having foreign leaders speak before Congress without notifying the White House while only 12 percent of Democrats did.

Both California senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, attended Netanyahu’s address.

Bass said the partisan nature of Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress should not deter lawmakers from their mission regarding Iran.

“My hope is that the politics surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech will not serve as a distraction to the issue that we must remain focused on, which is keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I support President Obama’s efforts to work with our allies to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, and I trust President Obama when he says he would rather have no deal with Iran than a bad deal,” she said.