Rep. Yarmuth (D-KY): 'As a Jew in Congress, my first obligation is to the United States, not Israel.'

Print More

An unusual moment occurred on the Stephanie Miller Show last Friday. That’s when Representative John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, spoke with rare candor about the tension – and anger – he feels regarding American politicians, influenced by AIPAC “fundraising,” seemingly deferring to Israel at times over the United States on matters of foreign policy.

“You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention – I guess we defer – to Israel more than we defer to the United States.”
“And you know, a lot of it has to do with fundraising.”

Representative John Yarmuth standing at a podium.

"I'm a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel." Credit: Greater Louisville Medical Society

Now, nevermind that Israel does not have a constitution, but instead has a legal framework constructed around basic laws. Yarmuth’s point was clear: hawkish ‘pro-Israel’ institutions in America, such as AIPAC, often inspire politicians to take foreign policy positions which are sometimes in direct opposition to or even harm U.S. initiatives. Such is the case with the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, partially written and strongly pushed by AIPAC. This is legislation which would severely harm President Obama’s diplomatic inroads with Iran. It is also legislation Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will trumpet before Congress come March.
And this is precisely the occasion for Yarmuth’s remarks: Speaker John Boehner’s now infamous backdoor invitation to Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who just weeks before his own election will stand before Congress and serve up the Republican rebuttal to Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative.
Regarding Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, Yarmuth had this to say:

“I am totally outraged at Speaker Boehner for doing it, I think it’s, it was deliberately
designed to undermine the president – that’s close to subversion.”

The irony here is that, instead of subverting Obama, Boehner has ended up subverting bipartisan support for Israel on the issue of Iran. Indeed, Boehner and Netanyahu together have done the unthinkable: they have turned Israel into a political wedge now dividing Democrats and Republicans. For in response to the Netanyahu invitation, Democrats in Congress who supported the Iran sanctions bill, including some of its critical backers, have currently pulled such support.
According to Yarmuth, support for Netanyahu and his hardline on Iran has little to do with foreign policy analysis and everything to do with AIPAC. Here he is on Netanyahu’s last speech before Congress:

“And, you know, I was there in the chamber in 2011, when Netanyahu spoke, and there he got I don’t know how many standing ovations. And I was in Israel shortly thereafter, and believe me, the Israelis pay very, very close attention to events like that. And I just – the first thing out of virtually every Israeli’s mouth was: ‘What was with all the standing ovations?’ And I said: ‘Well, AIPAC was meeting in Washington that week, and the gallery was full of AIPAC members, and every one of the members all wanted to see – make sure that their constituents saw them stand up.'”

Yarmuth articulated what few politicians will say regarding AIPAC and its legislative influence in the United States. However, what Yarmuth didn’t articulate is this: AIPAC’s hawkish policy stances, driven by an underlying fear for Israel’s long-term survival, consistently undermine Israel security and standing by promoting oppression, militarism, and zero-sum objectives.
This Iran sanctions bill, coupled by Netanyahu’s visit driving a wedge between opposing sides of the aisle in Congress, is just another case in point.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.