Vice President Joe Biden, one of Israel’s oldest and dearest friends in Washington, will be traveling to an undisclosed foreign country on March 3, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress.
That’s bad news, especially for the photographers, because, normally, the VP shares the background on these occasions with the Speaker of the House. It’s going to be an unbalanced picture.
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But wait, there’s more. According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a number of Democratic legislatures are going to be absent as well. Pelosi refused to call this a boycott, she said they just might have other things to do.
Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, was less diplomatic. “It was an insult to the president, to the State Department, what the speaker did, by not consulting the State Department and not consulting the White House.”
John Lewis is a friend of Israel, just like Pelosi and Byden. And the fact that they, and so many other democrats, are angry at Netanyahu to the point of being willing to hurt him politically, is nothing to trifle with.
Somebody has to help Bibi down from his tree.
Helping a man come down from the tree branch he’s stuck on is an Israeli idiom that fits Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu best these days. He made a move that seemed half-way inspired last month, getting himself invited to speak before a joint session of Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat.
The Israeli PM was not invited by the White House, or by the State Department, which is the way these things get done, but instead by House Speaker John Boehner. And it was not intended so much as an opportunity to enhance the good will between Israel and the American Congress, but rather to give President Obama a bloody nose.
The invite was publicized only a short while following President Obama’s appearance before the same forum, with his State of the Union address. And the feeling was that Bibi would fare better than Obama with both parties of both houses of Congress.
You’ll recall that the Republicans sat frozen during the president’s speech, as if unable to rise from their seats or even just clap their hands, when Obama announced the enormous economic strides the country had experienced over the previous year.
Bibi would score with everybody, was the expectation back then, because everybody, well, most everybody in Congress love Israel.
Then things got bad. Because, let’s face it, nobody’s arms are long enough to box with the White House.
Did Netanyahu expect the Administration to roll over and play dead, when a foreign leader steps over them to get to the Congress? Did he really think he could manage that one?
If he did, it is emerging now as a huge mistake, which could cost him not only the support of this president — that ship has sailed — but the Israeli elections as well.
There’s no doubt that the Republicans have much to gain from the Bibi speech, and Democrats much to lose. The Democrats would have to choose between angering their voters or the president. Some choice.
You know how bad things are for Netanyahu right now? AIPAC, where the prime minister is scheduled to speak during the same visit to the U.S., has gone out of its way to explain to the White House that they have nothing, but really, absolutely nothing to do with the Bibi move.
This is truly unprecedented. The most powerful, and most effective Israeli lobby on the planet is frightened of the consequences from Netanyahu’s visit. They are not kidding. The last time there has been a confrontation on this level between an Israeli PM and an American President, George Bush I threatened to cancel $10 billion in loan guarantees that were supposed to fund the huge Jewish-Russian immigration to Israel in the late 1980s.
Netanyahu has to see that some of this will seep down to his own campaign back home. His opponents on the left have been having a party with this one, but a bad showing in front of a joint session of Congress might affect the rank and file in his own Likud party.
Many have made the point that the bad blood over the Netanyahu speech would surely weaken his message about the need to get tough with Iran on its nuclear program. Why would the White House, or anyone in Congress, really, pay attention to a foreign leader who makes deals behind the president’s back?
Somebody has to step forward and provide Netanyahu with a face-saving gesture, a ladder to help him down from his tree. Such a plan may already be on the way. Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein were on Capitol Hill this week, to assess the situation and find an honorable resolution.
They met with seven Jewish Democratic members in the office of Rep. Steve Israel of New York, according to Politico. Dermer was attacked for his role in this unhappy maneuver. He had met with Secretary Kerry just before the announcement was made by Boehner, but didn’t clue him. Bad mistake.
Will some statesman emerge with the solution? I’m thinking one of the Clintons, who would make a personal appeal to Bibi, one he just couldn’t refuse. Otherwise, this could be a career ending mistake for Israel’s longest serving PM.