Netanyahu meets with Tea Party ‘darling’ Mike Lee

PM’s lengthy talks with Utah senator-elect underline outreach to freshman congressional class; Lee considered strong supporter of Israel.

Mike Lee 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Mike Lee 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spent an hour Thursday cultivating a relationship with Mike Lee, the Republican senator-elect from Utah, and Tea Party movement darling.
The meeting with Netanyahu, who is known to have a keen appreciation of the importance of good relations with members of Congress, demonstrates Israel’s efforts – sure to pick up in coming weeks – to reach out to the massive freshman congressional class that will be sworn into office in early January.
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Some 112 new faces were voted into Congress in November, 96 in the House of Representatives and 16 in the Senate. Of those, 87 of the new Congressman are Republicans, as are 13 of the new senators.
About half of this group has never held public office before.
What this means from an Israeli point of view is that many are unfamiliar with the Middle East conflict and the Israeli position, something pro-Israel groups and the embassy in Washington will intensively be working to rectify in the coming weeks.
Lee, for instance, was brought to Israel under the auspices of the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit sister organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It is expected that this group will bring over dozens of the freshman congressmen during their first year in office.
Ambassador Michael Oren is also making efforts to meet with the new congressman and senators when they begin arriving in Washington for the January 5 swearing-in ceremony.
Of the freshman class, some 60 percent are considered Evangelical Christians, and 50%-60% are believed to be affiliated with the Tea Party movement.
Lee, a fiscal conservative, was embraced by the Tea Party and backed by Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a key Tea Party figure.
Lee is the second newly elected senator to visit Israel, the first being Marco Rubio, the Republican senator-elect from Florida who came on a private visit to Israel within days of winning the elections.
Lee, 39, has been to Israel in the past and is considered a strong supporter. His wife lived and studied here for an extended period of time at the Brigham Young University extension in Jerusalem.
In a pre-election position paper Lee wrote that Israel is Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East, and “faces many of the same threats confronting the United States.”
His position paper said he supported the “maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge” and “direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on the fundamental principles that Israel should remain – and be recognized by the Palestinians as – a Jewish state.”
Even before meeting Netanyahu, Lee said in his position paper that Israel “must have safe and secure borders and the ability to monitor and protect those borders,” and that if there are disagreements between Israel and the US, “those differences should be discussed and resolved in private, as is befitting the close relationship between two great democratic allies. No country, including the United States, should seek to impose any agreement upon Israel.”
After the meeting with Netanyahu, one government source said that Lee is not “neutral” on Israel – “he is a friend.”