Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be popular with Congressional republican’s but his standing with the democrats is at best on very shaky ground. It began when Speaker of the House John Boehner, (R-OH) invited him to speak to a joint session of Congress on March 3rd to underscore the Prime Minister’s concern over the Obama administration’s handling of Iran. A concern that is shared by many Congressional republicans.
However, Netanyahu’s congressional address on March 3rd has become contentious after Republican leaders invited Netanyahu without consulting the White House or Congress Democrats. President Barack Obama and his cabinet has denounced Netanyahu’s speech, saying that it will come too close to Israeli elections, which are set for March 17th and that a meeting at this time with the Prime Minister could be seen as an endorsement. But they also point out as Susan Rice, who is President Obama’s national security adviser, Prime Minister might be harming U.S. – Israel relations.
Rice speaking on Tuesday night’s edition of The Charlie Rose Show was clear that Netanyahu’s speech was not helping the U.S. relations with Israel.
“What has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the Speaker [John Boehner] and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks in advance of his election, is that on both sides, there has now been injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Rice told PBS’ Charlie Rose.
“It’s always been bipartisan,” Rice added. “We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that way. When it becomes injected or infused with politics, that’s a problem.”
According to a CNN/ORC poll released last night, over 63 percent of those surveyed feel that Congress should not have issued an invitation to the Prime Minister without first seeking the advise of President Obama on the matter.
So, President Obama will not meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, nor will Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry won’t be in the country, meaning that no member of the administration will meet with Netanyahu during his short trip to Washington.
Many democratic members of Congress will boycott (here is the list so far) the speech because they see it as Netanyahu endorsing the GOP’s more hawkish plans for Iran. Yesterday two highly ranking democratic Senators sent the Prime Minister an invitation to meet with a group members of their party.
According to multiple reports Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Cal., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had invited Netanyahu to a closed-door session, which he declined to attend.
“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Netanyahu said in a letter to the senators, Reuters reported.
The two Democrats had, in their invitation, reportedly warned of “lasting repercussions” to U.S.-Israel relations if Netanyahu were to engage in partisan politics. “This unprecedented move threatens to undermine the important bipartisan approach towards Israel – which as long-standing supporters of Israel troubles us deeply,” the Democrats wrote in their invitation on Monday, Reuters reported.
According to Reuters ,Durbin said his and Feinstein’s invitation to Netanyahu, sent on Monday, was extended as “an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong.”
“His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades,” Durbin said Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, there is a #SkipTheSpeech movement that was started by The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. They are a liberal group who brought constituent letters and petitions to 75 members of Congress who have either pledged to skip Netanyahu’s speech or have expressed hesitation about attending. In total, more than 37,000 people have sent more than 110,000 letters to members of Congress. An additional 20,000 people have signed a petition calling on members not to attend.
According to a report in The Guardian, a number of Jewish groups that are normally very supportive of Israel, including the Jewish Voice for Peace, the Union for Reform Judaism, and J Street, have all called for the speech to be cancelled or rescheduled, is a sign of the significance of this shift.
For the record long time Obama supporter, Democratic operative, and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz went on record this week in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal opposing the president’s plan not to speak with the Israeli Prime Minister. Dershowitz urged President Obama and all Democrats to attend the speech.
We will have to wait till Tuesday night to see how this high stakes political drama will play out. But one thing is for sure it will be very interesting.