Washington (CNN)New York Rep. Charlie Rangel is among more than a dozen congressional Democrats who are planning to skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress next month, but he doesn't want to be called a boycotter.
Rangel to skip Netanyahu, but don't call it a boycott
"Even though I don't plan to attend, I would hate to be included among those people who are boycotting this," the 23-term congressman told CNN, explaining that he was concerned that being included in a "boycotters" list suggests he has negative feelings about Netanyahu himself or the Jewish people in general. Rangel said he was a a friend of Israel. "I'm not boycotting. It's about respecting my President on foreign policy."
House Speaker John Boehner sparked controversy by inviting Netanyahu to speak before Congress on March 3 without consulting with the White House or Democratic leadership in Congress. The prime minister, who is running for re-election, has said he has a "profound disagreement" with the United States and its negotiating partners in talks to curb Iran's nuclear program. President Barack Obama will not meet with Netanyahu, the White House said because of the proximity of his visit to the Israeli elections. Vice President Joe Biden will be traveling and will not attend the speech.
Rangel -- who joins Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Barbara Lee (D-California), John Lewis (D-Georgia), Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), Greg Meeks (D-New York), Jim McDermott (D-Washington) and G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina), James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in planning to bypass the speech -- said he could not find one good reason to attend.
"I don't know what good could possibly come out of anybody visiting the United States Congress to take issue with my President. It would be wrong if it was some American that was picked by Democrats or Republicans and it's worse for a person from a foreign government to take issue with a foreign policy that's headed by my President," he said. "The whole thing is a nightmare in diplomacy."
Rangel said the speech was clearly political and noted that the Israeli ambassador, who helped plan the event, is a former U.S. citizen who was a Republican. He suggested Netanyahu skip the speech to Congress on the "sacred floor of the House of Representatives" and simply speak at the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual policy conference, taking place March 1 - 3. Netanyahu is already a confirmed speaker at that event, which is attended by members of both parties.
A few minutes after our phone conversation Wednesday, Rangel tweeted: "Bibi: If you have a problem with our POTUS's foreign policy meet me at AIPAC but not on the House floor.'
The prime minister is unlikely to heed that request. Boehner and Netanyahu have both said the speech will go on as planned on the House floor.