Finance Minister Yair Lapid..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The leaders of Yesh Atid, Labor-Hatnua and Meretz competed Saturday over who could offer harsher criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to address both US houses of Congress on March 3, two weeks before Israel’s elections.
Sources close to Netanyahu downplayed the criticism, saying the White House was informed by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner before the press was told and that Congress has a right to invite world leaders, as it had done with Pope Francis.
“Netanyahu is destroying our strategic relations with the United States for an election speech,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said at a cultural event in Modi’in. “The strategic relationship with the United States is important to Israel’s security and this damage will take time to repair.”
Lapid told the crowd that he spoke with senior figures in the United States over the weekend and they are shocked by Netanyahu’s behavior.
“Netanyahu knows the relationship with the United States. He knows the protocol in the international arena,” he said. “If he decided to breach all of that for a speech to Congress two weeks before the elections, then it can only be for one reason: He believes it will help him in the elections in Israel even if the cost is damaging our strategic relations with the United States.”
Hatnua head Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu was aware that his repeated disputes with the administration of US President Barack Obama harmed Israel, because he told her so on occasions when he asked her to speak to the Americans and repair damage.
“The US stands as a wall that stops war crimes prosecutions at the ICC against IDF soldiers for acts that they did not commit, so our relations with America are essential for our security,” the former justice minister said at a cultural event in Bat Yam.
“Netanyahu is damaging the relations with our strategic ally, which uses its veto against all UN Security Council decisions that are against Israel.”
Livni said a responsible prime minister would know how to work with every US president and preserve Israel’s most important interests.
“Netanyahu likes to speak in English and hear applause, but when it comes at the expense of relations with our most important ally, that helps us protect our soldiers and our security, this demonstrates a severe lack of responsibility,” Livni said.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On called on State Comptroller Yosef Shapira to investigate Netanyahu’s improper use of Israel’s embassy in Washington surrounding the scheduling of his March 3 address to Congress.
“The state comptroller should check whether Netanyahu has used the Israeli Embassy in Washington in a prohibited way to advance political and party interests and not for state reasons,” Gal-On stated.
Gal-On said the suspicion of impropriety arises not only because of the timing of Netanyahu’s scheduled speech some two weeks before the Israeli election, but also because of the reports that the embassy in the US capital dealt with officials in Congress behind the back of the Obama administration in order to facilitate the speech.
Koolanu member and Israel’s former ambassador in Washington Michael Oren, meanwhile, called for Netanyahu to cancel the planned address.
“The behavior over the last few days created the impression of a cynical political move, and it could hurt our attempts to act against Iran,” Oren said.
Nathan Wise contributed to this report.