President Obama will not meet with Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits Washington, D.C. on March 3, saying the date’s proximity to the Israeli election could unduly influence the vote’s outcome.
The Obama administration reacted angrily on Wednesday after House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress without consulting the White House, calling the move a breach of protocol.
And on Thursday, Democrats ratcheted up their rhetoric against the visit as the White House announced they would not be rolling out the welcome mat for the Israeli leader.
“We are concerned about the fact that this presentation will take place within two weeks of the election in Israel,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday morning. “I don’t think that’s appropriate for any country, that a head of state would come here within two weeks of his own election.”
“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” said White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan in a statement on Thursday. “Accordingly, the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”
Israeli elections are scheduled for March 17. John Boehner had originally invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress on February 11, but the prime minister asked for a change of date so he could attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
Given the frosty relationship between the two leaders, President Obama may be concerned that a meeting could give Netanyahu an electoral boost before going into March’s tightening vote.
But in a poll conducted last month by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, nearly two-thirds of Israelis said they believe the president views their nation in a neutral or negative light — making it unclear how a White House photo op would help the Israeli prime minister.