US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look out a window.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY PETE SOUZA)
WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is declining all invitations to meet with politically affiliated organizations while in the US capital next week.
After turning down an invitation to brief Senate Democrats behind closed doors on his concerns over nuclear talks with Iran, one Israeli official said that several Republican senators, congressmen, think tanks and other Washington organizations have requested meetings with the premier.
“Multiple requests have been received and turned down for exactly the same reason,” the Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post
, “keeping it strictly bipartisan.”
Earlier in the week, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) suggested a private briefing by the prime minister to Democrats, citing concerns over partisanship surrounding his address to Congress next Tuesday.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu to address Congress last month, without consulting with his Democratic colleagues or the Obama administration.
“I regret that the invitation to address the special joint session of Congress has been perceived by some to be political or partisan,” Netanyahu’s response to Feinstein and Durbin, obtained by the Post
, reads. “I can assure you that my sole intention in accepting it was to voice Israel’s grave concerns about a potential nuclear agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country.”
Upon receiving the invitation from the senators, Netanyahu’s team suspected an effort by some Democrats to create a path out of attending the speech.
Speaking to the Post
, one senior Democratic Senate aide would not rebut that interpretation.
“A closed-door venue is a lot more of an appropriate venue to air national security concerns, and disagreements” than a nationally televised address, the aide said.
Nevertheless, Feinstein on Wednesday committed to attending Netanyahu’s speech. Durbin’s office could not be reached for comment.
Feinstein will be joining several other senior Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada as well as Senators Chuck Schumer of New York, Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, all of whom are committed to attending the event.
Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which holds its annual conference in Washington next week, have called on Democrats to maintain bipartisan support for Israel by attending the speech.
At this point, however, only three Democratic senators have declared their intention to boycott the speech – Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Brian Schatz of Hawaii. A third senator, Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), is also skipping the speech.
Several others remain publicly undeclared.
Two dozen House Democrats have stated their intention to skip the address, among them several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who in 2006 became the first Muslim elected to Congress, and André Carson of Indiana, who in 2008 became the second Muslim elected to Congress.