- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2015

Some Democrats may be boycotting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday, but tickets for non-members to get in to see the affair are proving to be a very hot item.

Each member is allotted a ticket to give out for seating in the viewing galleries, similar to a State of the Union address, and they are so in demand that Republicans have pleaded with boycotting Democratic colleagues to share their extras.

“I could scalp that ticket, there are so many people who want it,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, Michigan Republican.

Mr. Netanyahu’s speech has deeply divided the capital city, with President Obama criticizing House Speaker John A. Boehner for extending the invitation and the White House saying it broke protocol and could be seen as interfering in Israel’s looming elections. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who normally would sit behind Mr. Netanyahu as president of the Senate, has made plans to travel that day and will miss the speech.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice even said the speech could be “destructive” to the relationship between the two countries, though Secretary of State John Kerry downplayed any reports of a rift Sunday in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” program.

“The prime minister is welcome in the United States at any time. We have an unparalleled close security relationship with Israel and we will continue to,” he said.

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a key party spokeswoman on national-security issues, was less sanguine Sunday, calling Mr. Netanyahu “arrogant” for going forward with his address this week and accusing him of undermining President Obama.

Mrs. Feinstein took aim at Mr. Netanyahu for saying he would represent the “entire Jewish people” when he warns Congress about the nuclear deal being brokered with Iran.

“I think it is a rather arrogant statement,” the California Democrat said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“He doesn’t speak for me,” said Mrs. Feinstein, who is Jewish. “I think arrogance does not befit Israel. I think Israel is a nation that needs to be protected, that needs to stand free, that hopefully can work constructively with Palestinians to have a side-by-side state and to put an end to the bitterness that has plagued this whole area. “

But Mr. Boehner said Americans need to hear from the Israeli leader, whose nation could have the most to lose from a nuclear-armed Iran that has repeatedly vowed to destroy Israel, and who has dealt for decades with the kind of insurgent terrorism that the rest of the globe is now grappling with.

“What is destructive in my view is making a bad deal that paves the way for a nuclear Iran. That’s destructive and that’s why it’s so important for the American people to hear what Prime Minister Netanyahu has to say about the grave threats that we are facing,” Mr. Boehner said.

Support for Israel has become dominant within the GOP, and Republicans said their family, friends and constituents clamored to get in to see Mr. Netanyahu.

“Those are hot commodities. If you come across an extra one, let me know,” said Rep. Ted Yoho, Florida Republican.

He said he is bringing a constituent to the speech, but saw a high enough demand that he asked colleagues who aren’t attending if he could get one of their unused tickets. He wasn’t able to find any extras.

Democratic lawmakers, though, said they haven’t seen the stampede for tickets.

“I had I think only one or two requests, I wouldn’t say it was high-demand,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat, who said he was bringing a “friend and colleague.”

More than two dozen Democrats, including a sizable portion of the Congressional Black Caucus, have announced they will skip the speech, according to a count by the Hill newspaper.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, Ohio Democrat and a member of the caucus, hasn’t yet decided whether she will attend, but asked about her ticket, she responded that “someone is coming.”

World leaders’ speeches to joint sessions of Congress don’t always draw such interest. Indeed, often the seats on the House floor have to be filled by pages or other staffers. But Mr. Netanyahu’s speech is likely to be well-attended, the public boycotts notwithstanding.

Mr. Boehner gloated over that last week.

“I’m glad the prime minister is coming and I’m glad most of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, will be there to hear what he has to say,” Mr. Boehner said.

The public viewing galleries are likely to be just as packed.

Mr. Walberg is bringing the outgoing Republican party chairman of Michigan as his guest to the speech. He said he gave a ticket to an overflow room to a Jewish doctor who is a friend of his.

He too asked Democratic colleagues if he could have extra tickets, but they’d already given them away.

“If I could get more tickets I would get them,” he said. “They’ve all given them out.”

More Americans have a positive opinion of the Israeli prime minister, with 38 percent saying they view Mr. Netanyahu favorably, according to a Pew Research poll released Friday. Just 27 percent have an unfavorable view, and 35 percent have no opinion — including about 23 percent of those polled who have never heard of him.

Opinions vary drastically by party. More than half of Republicans have a favorable view of Mr. Netanyahu, compared to just 28 percent of Democrats.

The poll results come from telephone interviews Feb 18 to 22 with more than 1,500 adults across the country. The margin of error is about 3 percentage points.

While Mr. Obama has declined to meet with Mr. Netanyahu, the administration will send representatives to an event this weekend held by America’s leading pro-Israel lobby.

Ms. Rice and Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., are expected to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, the group announced last week in an effort to decrease the tensions between the administration and Mr. Netanyahu, who will also speak at the event, according to an Associated Press report.

S.A. Miller contributed to this article.


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