US Congress Invites Netanyahu, Angering White House

PM Netanyahu addresses Congress on May 24, 2011. (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

PM Netanyahu addresses Congress on May 24, 2011. (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

The US Congress invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to a special joint session on the Iranian and Islamic threats. The White House voiced opposition, citing protocol issues.

A bipartisan US Congress invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to address a special session next month on the Iranian nuclear program and the advent of Islamic terror.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people,” US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

“In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again,” the statement added.

The invitation was issued by the Speaker’s office directly to the Israeli ambassador, apparently without consulting the White House, thus raising the ire of the administration, which claims this is a breach of protocol.

Boehner told reporters he did not inform the White House of his plans to invite Netanyahu to the US until Wednesday morning. The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office also did not inform the White House.

“The protocol would suggest that the leader of one country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest told journalists.

The White House declined to comment on whether Obama will receive Netanyahu during his visit. The White House further views the invitation as a ploy by Congress to promote their bill on further sanctions against Iran, which the Obama administration opposes.

Secretary of State John Kerry later stated that the White House was “surprised” to hear about the invitation, although he added that Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the US “any time.”

Strengthening US Ally

Congressman Chris Stewart. (Photo: stewart.house.gov)

Congressman Chris Stewart. (Photo: stewart.house.gov)

Israel is currently embroiled in elections, and some left-wing politicians have voiced opposition to Netanyahu’s traveling, insinuating that Congress was trying to influence the elections outcome in favor of Netanyahu’s party. One politician even demanded that Netanyahu’s speech in Congress not be broadcast in Israel, claiming that it would be regarded as elections propaganda.

Republican Congressman Chris Stewart said that Congress’s invitation to the Israeli leader was a step geared towards strengthening Israel in general, and not Netanyahu specifically. Speaking on IDF Radio, Stewart said he did not know whether the invitation “was a poke in the eye to the president,” but that it was a strong message of support to Israel, the US’s strongest ally in the Middle East. As for a possible breach of protocol, Stewart said he “didn’t think it mattered that much.”

As for claims that the Republicans were trying to promote one candidate over the other, Stewart responded by saying that the invitation was meant to strengthen the State of Israel and Netanyahu “is their leader at this time.” He denied any claims that Congress was meddling in Israeli politics.

This would be Netanyahu’s third appearance before a joint meeting of Congress and his second with Boehner as Speaker. Netanyahu’s previous addresses were on July 10, 1996, and May 24, 2011. Other Israeli prime ministers who addressed Congress were Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.