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Franken skipped Israeli prime minister's speech; called it a 'partisan spectacle'


Sen. Al Franken is among several high-profile politicians who skipped the speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

The Minnesota Democrat added his name to a "boycott list" of members of Congress missing Netanyahu's speech, in which he criticized President Obama's ongoing talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

Netanyahu had been invited to address Congress by the House Speaker, Republican John Boehner, at a time when negotiations with Iran are at a "delicate stage," the Hill reports.

"This has unfortunately become a partisan spectacle," Franken said, according to the Huffington Post. "I'd be uncomfortable being part of an event that I don't believe should be happening."

In his speech, Netanyahu warned that any deal between the U.S. and Iran on the latter's nuclear program would "pave the way to the bomb," the BBC reports.

Why are Democrats skipping the speech?

The main objection among those not attending is that it has been arranged by Boehner without first consulting with the president – which it has been argued is a breach of protocol.

Franken also said it's inappropriate coming a few weeks before the Israeli elections, but added that once its over, the United States will "reaffirm its strong bipartisan support of Israel."

There are currently 56 Democrats – eight senators and 47 House members – who have said they won't attend. Two U.S. Representatives from Minnesota, Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, are among them.

"In my view Mr. Netanyahu's speech before Congress is nothing more than a campaign event hosted by Speaker Boehner and paid for by the American people," McCollum said in a statement reported by The Hill.

Congress members 'should attend the speech'

A Star Tribune editorial on Monday was critical of pretty much all sides in the debate, saying Boehner should not have invited Netanyahu without consulting the president, calling it a "clear breach of diplomatic protocol." And also arguing Netanyahu should not have accepted for this reason.

But in boycotting the speech, congress members are "accelerating divisions" between the United States and Israel, the editorial says, adding: "... out of respect to the relationship the two countries share, if not the prime minister himself, they should hear him out. Boycotts of discordant views are an unhealthy political dynamic."

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