Several Democrats and in particular members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have decided to skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to a joint session of Congress. This is extremely unfortunate especially because the storm surrounding Netanyahu’s appearance is completely contrived.

After the announcement of Netanyahu’s speech, the White House strongly objected, arguing that the relevant protocol was not followed because Netanyahu accepted the invitation before the White House was informed of it. That allegation has been exposed as false. Moreover, this past Sunday we learned that it was Speaker John Boehner who initially kept the White House in the dark about the invitation because according to Boehner, “There’s no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I frankly didn’t want that getting in the way, quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.”

Obama-Black-Caucus

What is even more concerning is that the White House turned the speech issue into a race issue, denouncing the affair as “disrespect” of the President of the United States. For many African-Americans, “respect” or “disrespect” of President Obama is very clearly a matter of race or racial bias, and the White House’s deliberate reaching out to the CBC feigning outrage was standard issue race baiting. Responding to questions by the Daily Mail, a White House staffer said, “I’m not saying the president called anyone personally…But yeah, the White House sent a message to some at the CBC that they should suddenly be very upset about the speech.”

This entire controversy is an intentional distraction – and the President showed us his true concerns when he noted recently that he and Netanyahu “have a very real difference around Iran sanctions.” The White House is playing the race card in a shameless attempt to avoid the real issue: the nuclear deal with Iran.

In his March 25, 1968 address to the Rabbinical Assembly, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that there were those in the black militant civil rights movement that were, “color-consumed,” and saw a “mystique in being colored; and anything non-colored is condemned.” He said that he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference did not “follow that course.”

Regardless of one’s personal feelings towards Netanyahu, he was falsely accused and many members of the CBC simply went along with it. Moreover, if the Obama administration finds Netanyahu’s acceptance of Boehner’s invitation disrespectful to the President and his office, when will they expose and fire the staffer who referred to Netanyahu as “chickensh*t”?

The President of the United States is seeking to advance a weak deal with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, without approval from Congress, and thus without considering the American peoples’ voice on this issue. But, since this is a politically untenable position, and since Netanyahu’s speech will likely increase bipartisan Congressional resolve to avoid a bad deal with Iran, the White House has reached into the back pages of the American political playbook and cooked up a race-based controversy to delegitimize Netanyahu’s address.

Iran’s nuclear weapons program is far too important an issue for these political games. And if the President feels that his differences with Netanyahu can withstand scrutiny, he can address Congress and the American people anytime he chooses.

The members of the CBC are first and foremost representatives of the people, expected by their constituents to make informed decisions on important matters. They should hear what Netanyahu has to say. They should also, of course, hear out our President. But they owe it to the American people to rise above these petty distractions; to not be swayed into making bad decisions based upon a fake controversy.

To those Congressional Black Caucus representatives who have decided (or, who may be deciding) not to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech – especially those citing disrespect for our president as the reason – I ask that you reconsider. There was no breach of protocol. There was no disrespect of the President. Please understand that this is about Iran and what the Prime Minister of our closest ally in the Middle East believes is a bad deal – for everyone. This is not about race. Please do better.

Pastor Dumisani Washington is the Diversity Outreach Coordinator for Christians United for Israel.