By Samantha Weinstein
Partisan politics in the United States are inflamed enough without the help of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu getting involved. Yet, after U.S. Speaker of the House, John Boehner, invited the Prime Minister to speak to a joint session of Congress, tensions between Republicans and Democrats are heightened. Moreover, this invitation is being referred to as a “breach of protocol” because the House leader did not seek approval from Obama. While Netanyahu is claiming innocence, many in Congress are calling his motivations into question.
The Prime Minister’s speech to Congress will happen two weeks before the next Israeli general election. If it were to appear that Obama was welcoming toward Netanyahu, then the overall impression would be that the United States was endorsing the candidacy of the Israeli official. The potential association with Netanyahu is causing backlash from the Democrats and President Obama because the party wants to be seen as neutral in another country’s political game. Two of the most pro-Israeli members of Congress, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) offered Netanyahu a closed-door meeting to squelch the appearance, but the Prime Minister refused. Netanyahu’s response to turning down this invitation was: “[The meeting] would compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.” No one is buying this excuse. By neglecting the invitation of the two and actively choosing to speak to Congress as a whole, the Prime Minister is casting the spotlight on himself.
Furthermore, there is speculation that Netanyahu is speaking before Congress to halt negotiations between Iran and the United States over limiting Iran’s nuclear program. According to statements released by Agence France-Presse (AFP), “Netanyahu’s goal is simple: try to kill a nuclear deal with Iran, even if it destroys relations with Obama in the process.” Netanyahu claims that if Iran reaches an agreement with the United States—something that is highly unlikely based on previous interactions with the two states—then Israel faces an increased security risk. However, this claim has little validity given the fact that any type of agreement between Iran and the United States would not jeopardize the relationship between Israel and the United States. This is because Obama’s goal is to promote an overall peace in such a conflict-prone area, and that begins with curbing the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Yet, the Prime Minister neglects this in presenting his case for a security threat.
Both the pending election and the Iran-U.S. negotiations add up to more than just convenient timing. The only seemingly saving grace to this situation is the upcoming annual convention hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in which U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Prime Minister Netanyahu will address the committee. As it stands, AIPAC is not happy with the upcoming address of the Prime Minister to Congress, citing they were blindsided with the decision to host Netanyahu and “…Work on behalf of every single Israeli government, without preference for Right or Left. With regard to the U.S. political system, AIPAC sanctifies the principle of bipartisan support for Israel.” However, the annual convention provides a common ground where damaged relations between the two nations have potential to mend, especially if Netanyahu can persuade the committee as to why he really came to the United States.
Although the Obama Administration is not the best the country has ever seen, mutual respect is still necessary for government to function. John Boehner is intentionally sticking his thumb in the President’s eye and Prime Minister Netanyahu is taking full advantage. The Israeli official knows full well that the AIPAC convention is going to happen and that he is going to be in attendance. Clearly, his need to speak in the United States one week before the meeting is more than just convenient timing.