Israel's ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (R),..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer on Friday pushed back against reports he “concocted” the plan to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a special joint session of Congress, saying the initiative came from House Speaker John Boehner’s office.
Dermer, in an email interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who days earlier was scathingly critical of Dermer and Netanyahu for the speech idea, said Boehner’s office “initially reached out to me regarding the idea of the prime minister giving a speech less than two weeks before an official invitation was sent.”
According to Dermer, “We said that we were open to making such an address and went back and forth with the Speaker’s Office to see if there were potential dates that could work for the prime minister’s schedule and the congressional calendar.
The final decision to invite the prime minister was made by the Speaker’s Office the day before he was invited – and I was informed of it that afternoon.”
Regarding blistering criticism that the ambassador kept the plans from US Secretary of State John Kerry even though they met a day before the invitation was issued, and that Israel breached protocol by not informing the White House of the plans, Dermer said it was made clear to him that “it was the speaker’s responsibility and normal protocol for the Speaker’s Office to notify the administration of the invitation.
That is why I felt it would be inappropriate for me to raise the issue with the administration, including in my meeting with the secretary of state, until the speaker notified them.”
Boehner’s office “apparently” informed the administration about the plans about two hours before the invitation was publicized, Dermer said.
Goldberg, who last year quoted a senior administration official as saying that Netanyahu was “chickenshit,” asked Dermer to respond to Democrats – “including, and maybe especially, Jewish Democrats” – who believe Netanyahu is “sometimes disrespectful to the president.”
While Obama and Netanyahu have disagreed on issues, Dermer said, “the prime minister has never intentionally treated the president disrespectfully – and if that is what some people felt, it certainly was not the prime minister’s intention.”
According to Dermer, Israeli and US policies on Iran are “not fully aligned,” something he said had many causes, “including that Israel is closer and more vulnerable to this threat, and has no margin of error.”
There was no intention on Netanyahu’s part to turn the Iranian issue into a “personal or partisan issue,” but rather that the question of Iran’s nuclear capabilities “affects the fate” of Israel, Dermer said.
“In the last couple of weeks,” he said, “people have heard from [British] Prime Minister [David] Cameron and other European leaders about the Iran issue. One would hope that people would feel that the opinion of the prime minister of Israel, a staunch ally of the United States threatened by Iran with annihilation, would also be worth hearing.”
Dermer said that while some may believe Netanyahu “should have declined this invitation to speak before the most powerful parliament in the world on an issue that concerns our survival and our future,” one of the lessons of recent Jewish history is that “the world becomes a more dangerous place for the Jewish people when the Jewish people are silent.”
The prime minister believes it his “deepest moral obligation” to speak before the Congress “while there is still time for him to make a difference,” Dermer said.
Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that she did not know whether Democrats, many of whom think the speech is a Republican partisan maneuver, would attend the address.
“With all the respect in the world for the prime minister, and all the love in the world for the State of Israel, I don’t know that even everyone in Israel is supportive of the invitation,” she said.
Pelosi was one of the Democratic leaders of Congress Netanyahu spoke to last week in an effort to blunt criticism of the address. He also spoke to Senators Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, and Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the senate.
Officials in Jerusalem said the prime minister stressed during those conversations that Israel’s survival is not a partisan issue, and that it is important for both Democrats and Republicans because it is intertwined with the security of America.
Netanyahu told the Democratic leaders that his message to Congress would be that it is imperative for America and Israel to face the threat from Iran together.