Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress, is not setting well with President Obama and high ranking members of the Democratic party, including Jewish members of the House and Senate.
Things got so bad on Wednesday that some Democrats including Vice President Joe Biden were considering boycotting the Israeli Prime ministers speech. The speech, which would also come just two weeks before Israeli elections, came about when the Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio), invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress without consulting the White House on the matter, which is a major breach of protocol.
Many Democrats saw the move as a bid by Republicans to apply political pressure on the Obama administration as senior officials, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, engage in sensitive talks with Iran over a possible deal to surrender its efforts to gain nuclear power. Both Congressional Republican’s and the Prime Minister are at odds with President Obama over how the Iranian issue should be handled.
But the Democrats and the Obama administration are upset that the GOP Congress would pull such a political move using an high level person like Netanyahu to make a point. Such breaches in diplomatic protocol are just not done and it might backfire on the Israeli Prime Minister.
Most of the day on Wednesday Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein were doing damage control all over Capitol Hill. Their attempts to calm the damage caused by the Prime Minister, did not seem to be working.
The U.S. and Israeli alliance is rooted in deep defense, security, economic and investment ties, and all sides insisted the U.S. commitment to defend Israel is unaffected by the unseemly dispute of the last two weeks. The address to the joint session of Congress by Netanyahu should help get him elected in March.
Meanwhile, some of Israel’s top Congressional supporters are not pleased and seven Jewish Democratic members of Congress who met Wednesday in Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-N.Y.) office — Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch of Florida, Jerry Nadler and Nita Lowey of New York, Sander Levin of Michigan and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois — clashed with Dermer. The invitation, they said, was making them choose between Netanyahu and Obama, making support for Israel into a partisan issue that they never wanted it to be, and forcing them to consider a boycott of the speech. They suggested Netanyahu consider speaking to members of Congress privately, and not from the podium of the House.
According to the Israel newspaper Haaretz – Despite the extensive criticism, Netanyahu has no intention of backing out of the speech, he told a group of visitors to his home Tuesday.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said the Israeli consuls general in San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia have sent the ministry worried cables in the past two weeks about widespread dissatisfaction regarding Netanyahu’s speech.
They also expressed concern about the implications of the deepening crisis between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.
“The recurrent message in all the consuls’ reports is that Israel’s friends in the United States think Netanyahu’s speech in Congress is a bad mistake and could harm U.S.-Israel relations,” the official s