PM’s Scheduled Address to US House of Representative Sparks Political Row


bibPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has accepted the invitation sent by Speaker John Boehner, on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate, to address a joint meeting of Congress. The Prime Minister is expected to arrive in the USA at the beginning of March and will also participate in the AIPAC Policy Conference. The address will provide an opportunity for the Prime Minister to thank President Obama, the US Congress and the American people for their support of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu:

“I am honored by this invitation, which reflects the special friendship shared by Israel and the United States as well as the strong bipartisan support for Israel across America.

“Just last week I discussed with President Obama the common challenges we face from Islamist extremism, including resurgent terrorism and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“I look forward to being able to share with the joint session Israel’s vision for working together to address these threats and to reiterate Israel’s commitment to the bond that unites our two democracies.”

This would appear on the surface as an opportunity for the prime minister of Israel to open some eyes among elected American officials regarding threats facing the State of Israel, particularly the Iranian threat. However, amid strained relations between Jerusalem and the White House, and the prime minister’s Republican leanings, the prime minister’s planned address in the house is causing a measure of turmoil on the already strained political relationship between the two leaders.

Not wishing to miss the opportunity, the Israeli left-wing is accusing the prime minister of sabotaging that which remains of relations between Israel and her strongest ally, the US, as clearly President Barak Obama, Secretary of State Johan Kerry and other senior administration officials are not pleased with the upcoming Netanyahu address.

At best it will be perceived as another Republican Party slap in the face to the president, whose Mideast policies to date have been a dismal failure at best. The presence of the prime minister in the House will further highlight the White House’s lack of understanding of Mideast events at best, and expose to some degree his personal anti-Israel and pro-Muslim agenda at worst. Whatever the case, the Labor Party in Israel and others left of center are sounding the warning bell, fearful the address will further compromise Israel’s tenuous position in the international community today.

Numerous reports state that the White House is “outraged” over Mr. Netanyahu accepting the invitation, which is views as circumventing the Oval Office to address the House of Representative. Remaining true to its anti-Israel position, the New York Times was quick to support opponents of the prime minister and highlight how the visit is a slap in the face to the White House. The article points out that the prime minister and the US president will not meet, but the latter will shun Mr. Netanyahu by quoting long-standing minhag, that such a high-level meeting so close to Israeli elections may be viewed as interfering in Israeli domestic politics. In his appearance on the motzei Shabbos Israel version of Meet the Press, Yesh Atid MK and a former ISA (Israel Security Agency – Shin Bet) director Yaakov Peri was furious over the prime minister’s planned address, accusing him of bypassing the White House and grossly interfering in internal American politics, a place all leaders of the state have avoided treading in the past.

Haaretz reported that President Obama had demanded that Netanyahu tone down his pro-sanctions rhetoric during a call between the leaders. The Washington Post focused more on Secretary Kerry, citing the upcoming appearance of the prime minister before the House is particularly offensive to the secretary. The post quotes a close source to Kerry warning “The secretary’s patience is not infinite”, hinting a retaliatory move can or perhaps should be expected. However the Post fails to cite that during the past two years of the outgoing Israeli administration, Kerry’s blunders in shuttle diplomacy and peace-making efforts between Israel and the PA (Palestinian Authority) have been his own, a clear reflection of his one-sided policy against Israel and an inability to think out of box accompanied by his unwillingness to pressure PA Chairman Abu Mazen into taking a realistic bold step to peace. Kerry’s criticism has for the most party been directed at Israel and Israel alone.

Strained relations aside many feel the invitation to the prime minister at this time was a major error as national elections for the 20th Knesset will take place on March 17th, giving the prime minister a prime forum some two weeks before Israelis go to the polls.

Supporters of the move explain the House is simply fed up with Obama’s lack of progress in the Mideast and his worrisome befriending of the Iranian administration over recent months. Israel continues to warn against the growing threats surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and the gap between Jerusalem’s interpretation of intelligence data and that of the US is widening.

Much will be heard in the coming weeks regarding the prime minister’s planned appearance before the House in the coming weeks, both locally in Israel and on Capitol Hill.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)