OP-Ed: Hakeem Jeffries: Courage By Any Other Name


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h[By: Chaskel Bennett]

The debate is still raging. Should Bibi have accepted? Should he have cancelled? No speech in recent memory created such an enormous reaction in the political fish bowl of Washington. Unfortunately the Netanyahu address has caused members of Congress to focus more on the political maneuverings of Speaker Boehner and less on the dangerous prospects of a bad deal with Iran. Of all the regrettable issues surrounding the speech, that lack of focus has cost the process valuable time needed for substantive debate on the real issue of stopping a nuclear Iran. One can conjecture, the Israeli Prime Minister felt that challenging the Obama Administration was the only way to cause the angst necessary to alert Americans to the danger of a bad deal. But at what cost to the Israeli- American relationship? Responsible pro-Israel experts are concerned about the future of American- Israel relations and if they are worried, we should be too. There is no question the Obama- Netanyahu relationship has reached a dangerous tipping point. This gamble, by the Israeli leader has caused multiple complications for numerous entities outside of the Beltway bubble. Unfortunate indeed.

The Obama-Netanyahu impasse placed nearly all Democratic Congressional members in a difficult and uncomfortable position. Many long time pro-Israel members including Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Jerry Nadler of NY, Ted Deutsch of Florida and Brad Sherman of California have personally told this writer how much they regret the way the speech came to pass. But all four to their credit, never publicly wavered in their decision to attend the Prime Minister’s address. Unfortunately others like New York Representatives Charlie Rangel and Gregory Meeks announced from the onset their regrettable decision to boycott and never came off their rigid position. Others much closer to home, avoided any public commitment altogether, leaving their constituents to wither on the vine. Which leads us to Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Mr. Jeffries is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a rising star on the New York and national political scene. He represents the very diverse NY 8 Congressional district that includes thousands of Jews, African Americans and other ethnicities. The debate surrounding the speech clearly placed enormous pressure on Mr. Jeffries to join some of his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues and boycott the Netanyahu address. Many members of the CBC, unfortunately concluded that the Netanyahu speech was designed to embarrass or disrespect President Obama,the first African American President. Their argument falls short most importantly because the issue here is and always was about Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons and threats of genocide- never a debate on race. With pressure from as high up as possibly the White House, Congressman Jeffries courageously rose to the challenge despite his stated distaste for the partisan nature of the Speakers invitation. He made it clear, that for him, the Iranian nuclear threat superseded Washington politics as usual. Courageous indeed.

When a member of Congress defies partisan expectations foisted on them in favor of principle, truth and honesty,it is cause to stand up and herald the founding father’s noble experiment of a House of Representatives. How refreshing it is to see a member of Congress actually listen to their constituents, deliberate their divergent views and come up with a sound decision that makes sense. Sadly, we Americans have not always experienced such moral clarity from our elected officials and for this reason alone we all should applaud Congressman Jeffries for his decision to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people. For those who know him, this strength of character comes as no surprise. His leadership on Israel and others matters of moral concious has made him an important voice for our city and country and we should be deeply grateful for a representative with such courage and conviction. America needs more such voices.

With the Iran sanctions debate heating up over the next few weeks in Washington, members of Congress who decided not to attend the Prime Minister’s speech, for whatever reasons, will get their chance soon enough to place principle over politics. Courage will surly be required….again.

Chaskel Bennett

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.



  1. I know almost nothing about Congressman Jeffries, but I do know that he represents a district that includes many Jews. His decision regarding attendance at the Netanyahu speech could be motivated solely by his need to keep the support of the Jewish voters in his Congressional District. The author of this piece has not provided us with information that shows that Mr. Jeffries’ support for the Netanyahu speech is contrary to his political or electoral interests.

  2. COURAGE is my vote towards BIBI!

    He might be shelving his life as PM yet he is speaking for the survival of his Jewish residents. Meisirus nefesh!!

  3. I attended the town hall meeting. Impressed for the first part; disappointed by his additional words. While Rep Jefferies spent quite some time for the first part stating the problems with the Iran Deal, the next speaker stated that there is no viable alternative. His argument was that w/o the Deal, Iran gets a bomb very soon. Could have been the President speaking. When Rep Jefferies spoke again, I noticed a change in the direction he was going. He was no longer giving the dangers of the Deal. He basically said he is examining the specifics and it’s a hard decision because of the ramifications, etc. He was wavering. And as a true politician, he kept telling us that his district has many different groups and it’s important to keep in touch, etc. I believe that he will vote for the Deal in the end.