Obama won’t meet Netanyahu during ‘bizarre,’ ‘historic,’ ‘unprecedented’ visit (Updated)

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Update, White House and State Department won’t meet with Netanyahu on his March visit to address both houses of Congress. Emergency Committee for Israel calls this a snub.

AP’s Julia Pace:

White House says Obama will not meet with Netanyahu when he comes to Washington because of visit’s proximity to Israeli elections

More from AP:

Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan says that in keeping with “long-standing practice and principle,” the president does not meet with heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections. Israel is scheduled to hold elections in mid-March.

Matt Lee reports:

#SecKerry will also not meet with #Israel PM Netanyahu on DC visit, per @statedeptspox, citing same reason as for no Obama meeting.

Today the Emergency Committee for Israel released the following statement:

Obama administration to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit to the United States:

The Emergency Committee for Israel salutes Speaker Boehner for inviting the Prime Minister of Israel to address Congress. We and millions of Americans look forward to hearing from him on March 3, and we appreciate the Prime Minister taking time out of his re-election campaign to speak to the American people.

It’s unfortunate that President Obama and Secretary Kerry are choosing not to meet with the Prime Minister. But we trust the Israeli people are aware that in snubbing their Prime Minister, President Obama does not represent the views of the great majority of Americans. In order to do our part to make the Israeli Prime Minister feel welcome in Washington, ECI will host a reception in the Prime Minister’s honor to make clear, in case there’s any doubt, that whatever the president does or says, Americans value our friendship with our ally Israel.

Netanyahu is confirmed for the AIPAC policy conference, March 1-3.

Original post:

The Congressional invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to both houses of Congress, purposely upstaging President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Iran and terrorism the morning after, is a shocker that the MSM can’t ignore.

Last night on NBC Nightly News Chris Jansing called the move an “unprecedented breach” in protocol–allowing a foreign leader to counter the president in the House chamber. The New York Times is far more careful in its treatment, but not Barak Ravid at Haaretz. He says that the invitation was “cooked up” nearly two weeks ago, “behind Obama’s back.”

Speaker Boehner’s invitation was preceded by weeks of contacts between Republican leadership and Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, who is pushing lawmakers for new Iran sanctions.

According to the senior [Israeli] official, Dermer approached Boehner, McConnell and other senior Republican Party figures at Netanyahu’s behest and suggested the idea of the speech. “Dermer and Boehner cooked up this whole invitation to Congress,” the official said.

Politico says the plan was hatched on January 8, and it emphasizes the drama:

House Speaker John Boehner is setting up his most dramatic foreign policy confrontation with President Barack Obama to date.

Erin Burnett of CNN seems to agree; she was all over the story last night, calling it a “historic” rebuff to a president’s effort to establish his legacy. CNN reporter Dana Bash called it “unusual and bizarre;” and scholar Douglas Brinkley called it “unprecedented, weird and strange” and the “low-end mark in US Israeli relations.”

Chris Matthews had nothing to say about the matter. It’s too hot: just days ago, Matthews had commented that all Democrats have to be for Israel. He can’t split his own constituency by bringing up this madness, which touches so directly on the national interest and the Israel lobby. As Burnett pointed out, Democratic powerhouses like Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer are against the president on sanctions.

J Street says the invitation was a “mistake.” Inviting a foreign leader to speak to both houses is not something that should be done “lightly.” Churchill spoke three times to such a gathering; now Netanyahu will tie that mark. The speech will arouse Israelis’ concerns about outside interference in their elections. Mostly, J Street worries that the invite will politicize support for Israel in the U.S., thereby dividing Americans, all of whom are supposed to love Israel.

we are disturbed by the way Israel is becoming a political football in the struggle between Republicans and Democrats. Traditionally, support for Israel has been bipartisan but it would appear that some in both countries want to make it a partisan issue…. Now we have Mr. Boehner risking creating the appearance of enlisting the Israeli Prime Minister for battles he may not be able to win alone on the merits of his arguments. This trend, if allowed to continue, has deeply worrying implications for Israel, which will always need support from across the American political spectrum to feel truly secure and to maintain the broad, grassroots support of the American people.

A little less diplomatic: here’s part of the reporters’ pool report from the president’s flight to Boise, Idaho, yesterday, a gaggle with Josh Earnest. Reporter is Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning-News.

Israeli PM’s speech to Congress at the invitation of Speaker Boehner is a breach of protocol because when the leader of a country comes to visit, he’s supposed to reach out first to the president…
Earnest said the White House was notified this morning before Boehner’s announcement, and he called it “interesting.” …

Would Obama meet with Netanyahu? “We haven’t heard from the Israelis directly about the trip.”

“The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there. That certainly is how President Obama’s trips are planned when he travels overseas. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”
He emphasized that Obama and the prime minister speak regularly. Asked if the White House is annoyed, Earnest said, “No.”

Of course this is about policy, not just manners. Earnest:

On Iran sanctions: the president strongly prefers to continue pursuing diplomatic options, as he said in his SOTU address. But it seems clear that Republicans want Netanyahu to add pressure for sanctions against Iran, something Obama wants to hold off on, Earnest said.

Here’s Boehner denying that he was poking the White House in the eye. But on CNN and NBC they showed the speaker sitting behind Obama as he made his remarks on Iran, knowing full well he was about to submarine the president.

But the congressional outreach is a conspiracy in plain sight to sabotage the Iran negotiations. Quoting Sec’y of State John Kerry, Matt Lee of AP has a two part tweet on the matter (1, 2):

#SecKerry: “In Israel, 1 of top intel personnel – I won’t name names _ was asked directly…what effect of (#Iran) sanctions would be.”

#SecKerry: “& this (#Israeli intel official) answered that (sanctions) would be like throwing a grenade into the process.”

Josh Rogin and Eli Lake say this remark is proof that the Israeli intelligence services have broken with Netanyahu over Iran.

The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling U.S. officials and lawmakers that a new Iran sanctions bill in the U.S. Congress would tank the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Martin Indyk welcomes this report: “Mossad has broken with Netanyahu on Iran, adding fuel to the fire in Washington,” but his former boss Kerry was diplomatic about the visit:

Bibi welcome in #US “any time,” #SecKerry says, notes it’s “a little unsual” to learn of visit from office of speaker of the House.

State Department’s Jen Psaki is also careful not to openly criticize the Israeli agenda:

QUESTION: So despite the fact that it – you say it was a breach of protocol, you’re not against the idea. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t – exactly.

QUESTION: Okay…. Does the Administration have any view as to whether Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress on his well-known positions about Iran and about militant or radical Islam is necessary or helpful to the discussion going on about —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think… it’s no secret, Matt, that we have a different point of view as it relates to the benefit of ongoing negotiations with Iran and our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken to that extensively. So that’s – but there are many leaders who have spoken to joint sessions in the past and there will be many in the future. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has on many occasions.

Rand Paul has welcomed the visit. (“Sheldon [Adelson] still isn’t going to give you a penny Rand,” says Zaid Jilani)

Oh and here Bill Kristol wades in, saying Netanyahu can “help out” Americans by filling in the president’s blanks:

Obama left a few things out of SOTU. Bibi can help out by filling in some blanks–al Qaeda, radical Islam, Iran’s sponsorship of terror, etc

And praising Robert Menendez, Democratic NJ senator, who had slammed Obama’s negotiations with Iran:

If only most Republicans were as forthright as Menendez…
Dem Sen: Obama’s Talking Points ‘Straight Out of Tehran’

And Kristol on the battle by Obama to hold his own party. Remember that the president counselled Democratic senators about donor pressure?

Just FYI: “donors” means Jews. “The president said he understood the pressures that senators face from donors…”

Update: The speech is to happen March 3 (not February 11, as announced), as part of Netanyahu’s pilgrimage to AIPAC, the Israel lobby group.

Nancy Pelosi slams the speech. She takes the J Street line, and faults Boehner for messing in Israeli politics, not the other way round:

Netanyahu address Congress in March was “inappropriate,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi charged Thursday.

The California Democrat said that, not only did Boehner break congressional protocol by not consulting Democratic leaders about the invitation, but the timing of the speech – coming just a few weeks ahead of Israel’s contentious national elections – hints that politics are at play.

Max Fisher at Vox is outraged, and correctly identifies the issue as one of national interest being undermined by a foreign country (though not a word about the powerful Israel lobby workin overtime here to make it happen)

Netanyahu is playing a game with US domestic politics to try to undermine and pressure Obama — and thus steer US foreign policy. Boehner wants to help him out. By reaching out to Netanyahu directly and setting up a visit without the knowledge of the White House, he is undermining not just Obama’s policies but his very leadership of US foreign policy. The fact that Netanyahu is once again meddling in American politics, and that a US political party is siding with a foreign country over their own president, is extremely unusual, and a major break with the way that foreign relations usually work.

Thanks to Annie Robbins.

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If the U.S. is drug into another military confrontation..this time with Iran there will be no doubt just who pressured the U.S. to do so. Israel and the Israeli lobbies in this country have their fingerprints all over this one. And now Boehner’s too. There will be no doubts as to who to point at and lay bloody blame. Hopefully Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, the NIAC and all other concerned groups and citizens… Read more »

This is really bad news and I’m furious. So is everyone else who is hoping and working for a change, for bringing Netanyahu down. During the US elections Netanyahu was accused, justifiably so, of intervening on behalf of Gov. Romney and the Republicans. Now it looks like the Republican Congress is intervening in our elections, in Netanyahu’s favor. If Netanyahu is given this platform , at a critical point shortly before the elections, it will… Read more »

As for anti-Netanyahu protests: believe me, he’ll be delighted.

If Netanyahu torpedoes the negotiations, American Jews and Israel will be blamed. Period. No contest. The spectacle of appearing before Congress will stand as evidence. And judging from the reaction last night at the bar, even the wonkiest pro-Repub/Israel supporters don’t like the disrespectful slap at the Office of the President.

Read Colonel Pat Lang’s take: Boehner should read the constitution and the law.

I think Boehner is a traitor.

I’ve never seen such disrespect for a sitting US president. I know he’s disappointed many and there’s a lot of people that post here that think he’s a terrible president, etc., but he is president for God’s sake and Netanyahu is nothing but sewage, who waltzes in and out of congress as if he was president of the US. I’m positive that this would never happen to a white president. Obama is being treated by… Read more »