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Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu | address | Congress | Israel | John Boehner | obama

Netanyahu Address to Congress an Issue in US, Israel

By    |   Wednesday, 28 January 2015 12:21 PM EST

The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept an invitation to address Congress in March has set off a political firestorm in the United States and has become a campaign issue in Israel.

"It's advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government. Much responsibility and reasoned political behavior are needed to guard interests in the White House," asserted Michael Oren, who served as Israel's ambassador to the U.S. under Netanyahu, reports The Atlantic.

Oren, whose criticism of Netanyahu is not unexpected given he is currently a candidate for the Israeli Knesset on an opposition party ticket, is the latest Israeli politician to publicly dress down the prime minister.

Amos Yadlin, who once provided security briefings to Netanyahu as his military intelligence chief, has argued that the speech is irresponsible and is simply part of a "political game" being played before Israel's March elections.

"I think it's a political game, I think what makes the prime minister irresponsible," Yadlin, who is the defense-minister designee of the center-left party Zionist Camp, told Ynetnews.

He added that "when we manage our relationship with the U.S., we have to manage it simultaneously with the president and Congress. The prime minister has made it in to a partisan issue in the U.S., and we cannot let Israel become a problem for one party or the other."

In accepting the invitation extended to him by House Speaker John Boehner, some believe Netanyahu has shown an error in judgment which could negatively impact his re-election efforts, particularly in a tight race.

"It’s a huge miscalculation. People are now questioning his judgment. If the opposition would not just focus on economic and social issues, but also argue against his claims on security and foreign policy, I think this exercise might backfire," Eytan Gilboa, a political communications professor at Bar Ilan University, told The New York Times.

Citing the proximity of the speech to Israel's elections, the Obama administration has confirmed the president will not meet with Netanyahu.

"As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country," said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In an interview scheduled to air Sunday, President Barack Obama also cited the Israeli elections as the reason for not meeting with Netanyahu.

"I'm declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don't meet with any world leader two weeks before their election," Obama told CNN's Fareed Zakaria. "I think that's inappropriate, and that's true with some of our closest allies."

In terms of the propriety of accepting an invitation from Boehner that had not been approved by the White House, Obama avoided a direct answer.

"Well, I'll let Mr. Boehner answer that, and Mr. Netanyahu," said the president.

The president also repeated he would veto any congressional bill that includes new sanctions on Iran, which is certain to be a central issue in Netanyahu's congressional address.

Some have questioned the legitimacy of the administration's protocol excuse, however.

"The Obama team’s outrage is a bit overwrought. Clearly, it is not a breach of protocol for a foreign leader to lobby Congress. After all, Obama himself deployed British Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby lawmakers to oppose new sanctions on Iran. It seems Netanyahu’s crime is not so much a breach of diplomatic protocol, but rather, opposing the administration’s position," wrote Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen.

The administration's efforts to remain publicly neutral have also been complicated by reports that former Obama aides are working on campaigns for Israeli opposition candidates.
One opposition group, Victory 2015, has hired former Obama political strategist Jeremy Bird, Haaretz reported.

"Their secret campaign weapon is Jeremy Bird, a 36-year-old American political strategist who worked for Obama. Bird has come with a team of four consultants that will try to channel the energies of V15 into an organized methodology," the paper reported, adding that the U.S.-based group OneVoice International has partnered with V15 to work to defeat Netanyahu’s party in the upcoming elections.

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The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept an invitation to address Congress in March has set off a political firestorm in the United States and has become a campaign issue in Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu, address, Congress, Israel, John Boehner, obama
Wednesday, 28 January 2015 12:21 PM
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