- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2015

The message from a dozen prominent black pastors this week to the Congressional Black Caucus was loud and clear: Don’t skip out on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyuhu’s speech.

About two dozen House and Senate Democrats, most of them black caucus members, have said they will not attend Mr. Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress, which one pastor described as a “slap in the face to the people of Israel.”

“The thing to me that makes no sense is why the Congressional Black Caucus has teamed up with this current administration against Israel,” said Pastor Dexter D. Sanders of the Rock Center for Transformation in Orlando, Florida.

“And yes, black caucus, I’m saying you have gone against Israel when you decide to protest the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from coming and speaking on the behalf of the nation of Israel,” Mr. Sanders said. “That is a slap in the face to the people of Israel, and not only that, it’s a slap in the face to God. And not only that, it’s also a slap in the face of all Bible-believing African-American people in this country.”

The Christian pastors, representing churches nationwide from California to New York, delivered an often fiery defense on behalf of the speech at Thursday’s press conference at the National Press Club, organized by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education.

Some black caucus members have argued that the Netanyahu speech comes as an insult to President Obama. House Speaker John Boehner invited the Israeli prime minister without first checking with the president, although Mr. Netanyahu has said he notified the White House before accepting.

Pastor Cecil Blye of More Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky, dismissed suggestions that the House violated protocol by extending the invitation to weigh in on U.S. negotiations with Iran.

“Charges from some members of the United States Congress about the breaking of protocol are no more than a very red herring,” Mr. Blye said. “The American people need to hear Israel’s voice on this urgent matter now. If one side of the aisle can facilitate this, so be it.”

Critics have accused Mr. Netanyahu of using the speech to boost his party’s chances in the March 10 Israeli election. Some House members have asked Mr. Netanyahu to delay his speech until after the vote, but many pastors said they were alarmed by any effort to undermine the prime minister at a time when Israel faces an existential threat in the form of a potentially nuclear Iran.

Israel knows and understands Iran better than the rest of the world. This is not the time to involve ourselves in petty political maneuvering designed to embarrass our friend,” said Pastor Stephen Broden of the Fair Park Bible Fellowship in Dallas.

Pastor Harvey Burnett of the New Bethel Church of God in Christ in Peoria, Illinois, said he was “particularly saddened that our black leadership has conspired to spread disinformation that Israeli leaders seek to undermine the President of the United States.”

A number of left-wing groups, including Roots Action, Code Pink, American Muslims for Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, has urged lawmakers not to attend as part of the #SkipTheSpeech campaign.

“I find it deplorable that some of our nation’s political leaders would contemplate and even encourage a boycott or a walk-out during the visit of the Israeli prime minister,” said Mr. Burnett. “I find it deplorable that some of our nation’s black leaders would call the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members were elected by the public, to snub our greatest ally in the war against terrorists.”

Pastor Corey Tabor of the Full Life Community Church in Pflugerville, Texas, said that “to intentionally ignore and insult the leader of Israel to make a personal or political statement is irresponsible and immature.”

“In our democratic nations, our leaders have been sent to Congress to represent their entire constituency,” Mr. Tabor said. “We stand today to say that these congressmen do not speak for all black Christians. As Bible-believing people, we stand with Israel, and we urge our leaders to do the same.”

Pastor Carlton Smith of the Antioch Fellowship Assembly in Cleveland recounted how Jews had stood alongside black Americans in their fight for civil rights.

“They stood and marched with us in our struggle then, and we must stand with them in the face of their enemy now,” Mr. Smith said.

At least two Democratic House members who plan to skip the speech—Reps. Steve Cohen of Tennessee and John Yarmuth of Kentucky—are Jewish. Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden are also not expected to attend.

Bishop David Richey of the Gulf Coast Christian Center in Mobile, Alabama, warned that missing the speech would send the wrong message to enemies of Israel and the United States.

“[T]his is certainly not the time to give even the least of hint that we are not the best of allies with the state of Israel,” said Mr. Richey, adding, “In order to remain the great nation that we are, some things must remain non-negotiable. I believe our current stand with Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu must be one of those things.”

The specter of lawmakers deliberating missing the speech may also do more harm to U.S.-Israeli relations, said Pastor Claude May of the Oasis of Hope Christian Church in Detroit.

“I am afraid of the direction we are headed in, based upon fact that we are about to destroy a relationship that has always been strong, always been great,” Mr. May said. “We have always been the strongest of allies with the nation of Israel since its inception, and I am deeply disturbed that that is being deteriorated by these acts.”

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