Apparently, refusing to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his upcoming visit to Washington to speak before Congress is not a strong enough expression of discontent.
The White House is reportedly mulling other avenues to snub the prime minister, including a possible boycott of an upcoming pro-Israel conference. According to an Associated Press report Friday, President Barack Obama may avoid the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gathering, sending at best a low-ranking representative in his place.
Netanyahu is set to address Congress on March 3, speaking about Israel’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities and ongoing negotiations. He has repeatedly expressed that it is preferable to reach no deal than to accept a bad deal.
The Obama administration, however, sees Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation as an affront, since they were not advised of it in advance, nor were they asked to formally issue the invitation, as typically occurs.
As a result, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry have all said they would not meet with Netanyahu while he is in the US, claiming it is against US policy to meet world leaders in the time leading up to elections in their home countries. Israeli elections will take place March 17.
Among the methods under consideration for “punishing” Netanyahu for accepting the Congressional invitation, AP reported, are “a presidential interview with a prominent journalist known for coverage of the rift between Obama and Netanyahu, multiple Sunday show television appearances by senior national security aides and a pointed snub of America’s leading pro-Israel lobby [AIPAC], which is holding its annual meeting while Netanyahu is in Washington.”
While a senior US official assured Haaretz Saturday that the administration has no intention of boycotting the conference outright, he refused, however, to divulge the identity or rank of the representative that will be sent. The White House has not yet sent its RSVP for the event, which in itself is not unusual, but the AP report indicated a Cabinet-level representative is unlikely. Candidates for the task include newly installed Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken or Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
Haaretz’s unnamed source explained the administration “differentiates between Netanyahu and the lobby, and does not see the lobby as the main factor behind Netanyahu’s invitation to Congress.” Netanyahu will be addressing the conference on similar themes while in Washington.
Obama has attended the AIPAC conference in the past; he addressed the group in 2012, during his reelection campaign. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden’s travel schedules both conveniently conflict with the AIPAC conference. Biden will be in Uruguay and Guatemala on a tour which was announced after Netanyahu was invited to speak to Congress, while Kerry’s trip, publicized hastily this week, is to locations as yet to be determined.