Picture: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.S. Congress on March 3, 2015 courtesy Speaker John Boehner/flickr
As Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoyed no less than 26 standing ovations
during his speech before the United States Congress on Tuesday morning, the resounding applause did not include the clapping hands of nearly sixty lawmakers who did not attend the controversial address.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.) joined 56 Democratic lawmakers in the boycott, which was seen by many as snub to the powerful Jewish-American lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Republican House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) had invited the Israeli leader to speak against the ongoing Iranian nuclear talks without first consulting the White House. Ahead of the address, a number of dissenting lawmakers cited their support of President Barack Obama and opposition to Republican efforts to "politicize foreign policy" as reasons for not participating.
In a statement
sent to the Boston Globe
Monday evening, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren announced her boycott but reiterated her "strong support" of Israel.
"It’s unfortunate that Speaker Boehner’s actions on the eve of a national election in Israel have made Tuesday’s event more political and less helpful for addressing the critical issue of nuclear nonproliferation and the safety of our most important ally in the Middle East," Warren said.
Echoing that sentiment, Sanders told MSNBC's
Andrea Mitchell that while Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb, "We should try to do everything we can to prevent a war with Iran."
Also not in attendance were President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. The president said he could not be present because of the speech's proximity to the Israeli election, while Biden had a scheduling conflict.
Condemning Netanyahu's efforts to "sabotage diplomacy," grassroots groups also rallied around the boycott and called on lawmakers ahead of time to skip the speech.
In a Washington Post
op-ed published last month, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said
the dispute highlights waning political support for Israel's policies, particularly towards Palestinians.
"While coverage of the controversy over the speech has focused on violations of diplomatic protocol and Israeli officials attempting to play Democrats and Republicans against one another, the stakes are actually much higher," Vilkomerson wrote.
Netanyahu is not only trying to dictate American policy toward Iran, but is also using the issue of Iran as a way to avoid hard questions about Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and its own citizens. The current controversy around Netanyahu’s speech has revealed what we have known for a long time: that the increasingly oppressive and hawkish policies of the Israeli government do not reflect the values of American Jews, nor of Democrats.
In total, 48 members of the House of Representatives and eight Senators skipped the Israeli leader's speech.