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Cooper, Cohen Split on Israeli PM’s Congressional Address

Tennessee’s only two Democratic legislators in Washington have taken divergent positions on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pending speech to Congress Tuesday.

Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish American and self-described “supporter of the state of Israel,” has announced his intention to boycott because he believes “the speech is political theater” for Netanyahu’s re-election efforts.

Cohen also took umbrage with Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to the Israeli leader in light of the Obama administration’s ongoing negotiations in the Middle East. He accused House Republicans of “giving a foreign leader the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as a forum to present a counterargument to the foreign policy peace efforts” of President Barack Obama.

“My lack of attendance does not mean I will not be aware of the content of the speech nor does it mean I won’t follow the commentary both pro and con but I will not be part of the spectacle,” Cohen said in a release.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, on the other hand, plans to attend, as he said he always does when a foreign leader addresses Congress. Cooper’s also planning to bring along the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville to the speech as his guest.

According to a media advisory e-mailed late Monday, House Democrats, led by Cohen, will make a response to Netanyahu’s speech early Tuesday afternoon.

Dozens of Democrats from both chambers of Congress — the count has fluctuated over the past month from 54 members of congress to 34  — have announced that they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech.

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Press Releases

Cohen Not Attending Netanyahu Congressional Address

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 24, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today issued the following statement regarding his decision not to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress next week:

“As a supporter of the state of Israel and a Jewish American, I have been placed in a difficult position regarding the anticipated speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the United States Congress.  After deliberation, I have decided I cannot in good conscience attend the Prime Minister’s speech. My decision not to attend is not a reflection of my support for Israel and its continued existence as a state and home for the Jewish people.  I have always strongly supported Israel and I always will. However, I believe, as do many conscientious Members of Congress, that the speech is political theater by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Likud party, just two weeks before the elections in Israel.  However, the Prime Minister could not speak on the House floor without an invitation from the Speaker of the House John Boehner.  Speaker Boehner and other Republicans supporting the speech are giving a foreign leader the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as a forum to present a counterargument to the foreign policy peace efforts of the President of the United States who has constitutional authority over foreign affairs.  This speech is high theater for a re-election campaign in Israel and a political tool wielded against our President and his Administration by the Speaker of the House. Further, it is not a coincidence that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress will be during the Washington D.C. convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) with whom Speaker Boehner is currying favor.”

“The United States House of Representatives Chamber should be sacrosanct. Congressional rules do not allow the use of videos of House floor or committee activity in political campaign advertisements.  In 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress and then used video clips of that speech in his re-election campaign ad to great advantage. It is expected Mr. Netanyahu will do the same again.  Congress cannot make laws that govern his conduct in Israel but the Prime Minister should honor the spirit of our campaign laws. Knowing his past use, any invitation for him to speak before Congress should include the condition that his speech to Congress not be used in a campaign ad.”

“Protocol in inviting a foreign leader to speak before Congress includes coordinating with the Administration because foreign affairs are the province of the President.  Not only did Speaker Boehner not coordinate with or inform the President of the invitation, he also asked the Israeli Ambassador not to inform the President.  The Speaker’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu is political gamesmanship and it is a very dangerous game.  The Prime Minister’s use of the U.S. House chamber as a stage to argue against the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, which is currently being negotiated among Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, is reckless.   While Americans and members of Congress may disagree on anything, even foreign policy, providing a forum of such immense prestige and power to the leader of another country who is opposing our nation’s foreign policy is beyond the pale. It endangers the negotiations, insults the good faith of the other nations involved in the negotiations and emboldens Iran who may well view this schism in our government as an opportunity for advantage.  While we can disagree with our President, we as a nation should be as one on our foreign policy and any disagreements should be presented in a respectful, appropriate and time-honored manner.”

“I have given due consideration to my decision not to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address before Congress.  I have attended the Prime Minister’s previous speech and my support of Israel has not wavered but I believe that this speech at this time and brought forth in this manner is dangerous to Israel as well as inappropriate.  Nothing should come between our two nations.  The actions of the Speaker and the Prime Minister have caused a breach between Democrats in Congress and Israel as well as the administrations of the United States and Israel.  My lack of attendance does not mean I will not be aware of the content of the speech nor does it mean I won’t follow the commentary both pro and con but I will not be part of the spectacle.”

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Legislative Subcommittee Hears from Parents on Textbook Bias

Some conservatives in the Tennessee Legislature are looking to change the way the state approves its public school textbooks.

Amidst recent complaints from parents of liberal and anti-semitic bias in school books, a Joint Government Operations Subcommittee voted Wednesday to effectively put the state’s Textbook Commision on notice, giving them one year to address concerns and propose solutions or face being dissolved in favor of another system.

The Education, Health & General Welfare Subcommittee periodically evaluates certain government entities, including the textbook board, and makes recommendations to either extend or scrap them.

During the subcommittee meeting, Wednesday, members of the State Textbook Commission, which includes educators and administrators, stressed to lawmakers that they evaluate books to make sure they meet educational benchmarks and put out a list of approved options but that school districts make the final purchasing decisions. Members of the Commission estimated that public school districts spend roughly $66 million annually on books in Tennessee.

It was the testimony from members of the public, however, that appeared to have the most impact on committee members’ thinking. Several parents spoke heatedly about what they say is an agenda, present in certain textbooks, that undermines Judeo-Christian and capitalist principles.

Julie West of the group Parents for Truth in Education quoted passages from social studies books that she argued glorified the communist ideologies of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a Christian Zionist activist with the group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations raced through several examples of what she sees as anti-semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric that condones radical Islam and terrorism.

Speaking to reporters following her testimony, Moore questioned the efficacy of the Textbook Commission’s approval process and called for an overhaul of the system.

“We are not wanting our way of life to be jeopardized because of the content that’s provided in this curriculum,” Moor said. “What worldview are [textbooks] being vetted from? Parents from Williamson County and across the state of Tennessee want to know because it doesn’t represent our values.”

Conservatives on the subcommittee emphasized that they didn’t believe the textbook board itself was responsible for perpetuating a bias, suggesting instead that commission in its current form simply didn’t have the resources to do the sort of value-based reviewing that they deemed necessary.

Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, one of the prime legislators raising the textbook issue, said he sees increased local control and parental involvement in decision-making as the best solution.

“We have to figure out a way so that the locals can reject curriculum that they find biased or not factual,” the Franklin lawmaker told reporters.

Asked where such bias was coming from, Casada said he thought that larger publishing companies that tend to dominate the market are usually based in more liberal parts of the country.

“Most of this is from the large textbooks that are predominantly Eastern Seaboard-based or California-based and they bring their own bias and that’s what we’re being exposed to in Tennessee,” Casada said.

Any final changes to the way the state approves textbooks would ultimately have to come in the form of legislation and pass through the entire general assembly.