Last month, Speaker of the House John Boehner coordinated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow him to speak to Congress in March about negotiations with Iran. Because Boehner and Netanyahu circumvented the White House and made arrangements without contacting the Obama administration first, many Democrat leaders expressed anger, with one senior White House official saying that Netanyahu “spat in our face publicly.”
To help try and calm them down, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein held meetings in Washington yesterday. Rather than making peace, the meetings only made Democrats “more frustrated,” Politico reported. “[O]ne Jewish Democratic member of Congress even accused Dermer of being insincere when he claimed not to have anticipated the partisan uproar he’d ignite when he skirted protocol and went around the White House and scheduled the speech only with [Boehner].”
Josh Earnest even said that there was a possibility that Vice President Joe Biden might skip the speech next month, pointing out that Biden has only missed one speech by a foreign leader to Congress during his tenure as second in command.
Netanyahu’s visit comes as the Obama administration considers diplomatic negotiations with Iran in hopes of getting the country to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The Israeli prime minister feels that the US is being naive in thinking that Iran would ever agree to do so. His speech, coincidentally or not, would fall about two weeks before elections in Israel, in which Netanyahu will be seeking re-election.
“The muddled manner in which this invitation to speak to Congress has been handled is striking,” said former ambassador to Israel Edward Djerejian. “This is an unnecessary irritant in the basic US-Israeli relationship and it couldn’t come at a more delicate time, where the Middle East region is in such turbulence and there’s so many challenges.”
Another former ambassador, Martin Indyk, said that Dermer and Edelstein’s efforts were “symptomatic of what’s happened as a result of the speaker’s invitation and the prime minister’s acceptance of this speech.”
Regarding relations between the two countries in light of this incident, Indyk added,
“It’s going to get worse, because Democrats, whether it’s Jewish Democratic congressmen, or Jewish voters for the Democratic Party – which is the majority of American Jewish voters … nobody wants to be put in the position of taking sides. Democrats who are supporters of Israel don’t want to have to choose between supporting Israel and supporting their president.”
And as Politico pointed out, it’s going to take more than just an apology from Dermer to fix this situation. Netanyahu’s speech would have to be canceled and/or rescheduled before the problem is solved.