My Turn: Why I will attend Netanyahu’s speech

Last modified: Sunday, March 01, 2015
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel coming to Washington next week to address Congress, a growing number of Democrats in Congress have announced that they will boycott the speech. I, however, plan to attend.

While I appreciate my colleagues’ concerns – and I agree with many of them – America’s friendship with the state of Israel transcends the manner in which the invitation to speak was extended. Our friendship is bigger and stronger than any individual leaders or their personal relationships. Our unity is firmly anchored in shared values and shared interests. The prime minister of Israel, whoever he or she is, should always be received respectfully in Washington.

Speaker John Boehner’s invitation, extended without consulting the administration and scheduled just two weeks before the Israeli elections, was a violation of both traditional protocol and common courtesy. Intended or not, this came across as an act of disrespect toward President Obama and the office of the president. Perhaps worst of all, this incident has at least temporarily disrupted the bipartisanship that has undergirded America’s support for Israel since the Jewish state’s founding in 1949.

Our strong relationship with Israel is of utmost importance. This is especially true today, as negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons are near the make-or-break point. For Israel, a nuclear Iran would constitute an existential threat. So when the Israeli prime minister says he is coming to Washington to speak up “for the very survival of Israel,” it is my view that members of Congress have a responsibility to hear him out, regardless of whether or not we ultimately agree with his recommended course of action.

As a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, I will give my full attention and respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu as the democratically elected leader of Israel. He would be well-advised in the future to extend the same respect to the democratically elected leader of the United States.

Whether in our domestic politics or in dealings with allies and adversaries abroad, elected leaders can have disagreements and even bitter arguments, but that must not be the last word. We can be angry at the person on the other side of the aisle or across the negotiating table, but we must not refuse to continue talking.

At this momentous juncture in the Middle East, with negotiations with Iran coming to a head, I intend to be present in the House chamber for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, to listen carefully to every word, and to reflect on the merits of his arguments. The stakes are huge for both the United States and Israel. Attending the speech will be the easy part. Attending to the challenge of Iran will be a far greater test of our mutual trust and wisdom.

(Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator.)