At the invitation of House Republicans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still scheduled to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress next week, despite the international controversy. It will be the first time a foreign leader is invited to deliver a joint-session speech in order to criticize and undermine American foreign policy.
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), hoping to ease tensions, invited the prime minister to visit privately with Democratic senators next week. Yesterday, Netanyahu responded in writing: No..
“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic senators, I believe that doing so could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit. I would, of course, be glad to address a bipartisan forum of senators behind closed doors on a future visit, as I have been privileged to do many times in the past,” Netanyahu wrote to the two senators in a letter dated Jan. 24, an apparent error.
Durbin, the Senate Minority Whip, said the Democratic invitation was intended to “balance the politically divisive invitation” from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The Democratic leader added that Netanyahu’s “refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades.”
It’s important to emphasize that the Israeli leader’s argument isn’t factually wrong – he has scheduled no private meetings with congressional Republicans next week, so Netanyahu can plausibly claim it might appear “partisan” to huddle with Democrats exclusively.
It’s the broader context that points to trouble.
The fact remains that Netanyahu, as a practical matter, already met privately with Republicans when the prime minister and his GOP-insider ambassador hatched this scheme in the first place. In this sense, Netanyahu effectively told Democrats yesterday, “I’m willing to work in private with Republicans, but I’m not willing to have a private chat with Democrats while I’m in town.”
It’s a posture that seems likely to make matters much worse.
Meanwhile, Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, raised the rhetorical stakes a bit last night, telling PBS that Netanyahu’s gambit has “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.”
Right about now, I suspect there are some Senate Democrats who feel the same way.