Top Israeli official suggests Boehner misled Netanyahu

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An Israeli official on Friday criticized Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress without talking to the White House.

The move has been roundly criticized by congressional Democrats, and some are planning to skip the March 3 speech in protest.

{mosads}Israel’s ambassador to the United States and other officials were on Capitol Hill this week meeting with lawmakers, and seeking to smooth over the issue.

“It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move, in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one-sided move and not a move by both sides,” Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told a Tel Aviv radio station, Reuters reports.

Hanegbi acknowledged that Democrats are “pained,” adding that Israel is making “a huge effort to make clear to them that this is not a move that flouts the president of the United States.”

Boehner’s office declined to comment on the matter.

The speech is set weeks before Israel’s own elections, which Netanyahu is in danger of losing. It also comes as congressional Republicans seek to pressure the Obama administration to take a tougher line in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Netanyahu is widely expected to use the address to Congress to call for sanctions against Iran, which the administration argues could submarine the delicate negotiations.

The White House has said it was a breach of protocol for a foreign leader to be invited for a visit to the United States by the Speaker instead of the president.

Asked if the speech would be postponed or canceled, Hanegbi said, “What would the outcome be then? The outcome would be that we forsake an arena in which there is a going to be a very dramatic decision [on Iran].”

After the speech was announced, Democrats backing tougher sanctions legislation against Iran announced they would withhold their support to give additional time for the administration to negotiate with Iran.

Hanegbi still said that he hopes the speech can convince some Democrats to support new sanctions. 

“The Republicans know, as the president has already made clear, that he will veto this legislation,” Hanegbi said. “So in order to pass legislation that overcomes the veto, two-thirds are required in the Senate. So if the prime minister can persuade another one or two, or another three or four, this could have weight.”

On Thursday, two prominent House Democrats, civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), said that they would not attend the speech, raising the prospect that the rest of the black caucus and other Democrats, could follow suit.   

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that “as of now” she plans to go to the speech, but she hopes it is canceled.

Tags Barack Obama Benjamin Netanyahu Israel John Boehner John Lewis Nancy Pelosi

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