Netanyahu’s Visit Bringing Uninvited Problems for Jewish Democrats

WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner’s unilateral invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to address Congress on Tuesday has turned a foreign policy issue that has had near unanimous support in both parties — Israel — into a bruising political showdown.

And nowhere has that transformation been more wrenching than among Jewish members of Congress — all but one of them Democratic — who seem to reflect the dismay of the nation’s larger Jewish community over the House speaker’s action.

“I went out to play golf — I never play golf — with three of my Jewish buddies,” recalled Representative Alan Lowenthal, a Jewish Democrat from Southern California who only this weekend decided he will attend Mr. Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress. “One said, ‘You must go,’ one said, ‘You definitely should not go,’ and one said, ‘I’m in the middle.’ That literally reflects the American Jewish community.”

Through foreign policy trials as difficult as the wars in Gaza and Lebanon, Israeli settlement policies, Arab terrorism, and the repeated failures of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Jews in Congress — and to a large extent, Jews in the United States — have spoken in a near-monolithic voice, always in support of the government of Israel.

But the Boehner-Netanyahu alliance has done something that larger foreign policy crises have not: It has led to the open distinction between support for the State of Israel and allegiance to politicians who lead it.

“It’s a tipping-point moment,” said Rabbi John Rosove, an outspoken liberal and head of Temple Israel of Hollywood. “It’s no longer the Israeli government, right or wrong. The highest form of patriotism and loyalty is to criticize from a place of love.”

To Mr. Israel, the New York Democrat, that is not a positive development. Jewish philanthropic organizations can channel donations from American Jews to nongovernmental organizations in Israel, but United States aid will always be predominantly government to government. Mr. Israel said the last thing Israel — or the Democratic Party — needed was political tension over American aid to Israel.

“When you separate Israel from the policies of its government, it complicates the matter for Congress,” Mr. Israel said.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on March 2, 2015, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Netanyahu’s Visit Bringing Uninvited Problems for Jewish Democrats. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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