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WH downplays criticism of Israeli envoy

The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is “bigger than any single diplomat,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said a day after a senior administration official slammed Israel’s representative to Washington.

A member of the president’s inner circle told The New York Times that the administration was upset that Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer had repeatedly placed the political fortunes of Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE above the relationship between the two countries. 

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The official was unnamed and was not directly quoted, but the report highlighted that the White House remains upset over Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to speak before a joint session of Congress later this year.

Netanyahu is expected to criticize Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear deal in Iran and urge lawmakers to move on legislation imposing additional sanctions on Tehran if the talks fail.

Dermer reportedly helped broker the invitation, which was unusual in that neither the State Department nor the White House were informed beforehand.

Earnest on Thursday said the invitation “that was conceived of and executed by the Speaker of the House and the Israeli ambassador was a departure from protocol.”

He reiterated that Obama would not meet with Netanyahu during the trip but cast that decision as an attempt to avoid the perception of interference two weeks before the Israeli elections.

But Earnest said nevertheless the bonds between the U.S. and Israel remain strong and the White House was not contemplating action against Dermer for his role in the invite.

“The United States' commitment to our strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel, transcends partisan politics,” Earnest said. “And I think people on both sides of that relationship understand this and understand why it's important.”