- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused an invitation from Senate Democratic leaders to meet privately with members of their party next week when he gives a speech to a joint session of Congress.

The Israeli leader said he was aware of the partisan spat in the U.S. over the speech — the invitation to speak March 3 was issued by the Republicans in charge of Congress without consulting with the White House — and said he did not wish to compound that furor by speaking to one party behind closed doors.

To meet with Democrats alone “at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California, who issued the invitation Monday to speak with their caucus.

“I regret that the invitation to address the special joint session of Congress has been perceived by some to be political or partisan,” wrote Mr. Netanyahu, who has lived in the U.S. for decades. “I can assure you that my sole intention in accepting it was to voice Israel’s grave concerns about a potential nuclear agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country.”

A number of Democrats, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden in his capacity as president of the Senate, have said they will not attend the speech to a joint session of Congress. The White House has called the invitation a breach of protocol and a partisan shot at President Obama’s Middle East policies.

Mr. Obama will not meet with Mr. Netanyahu at all during the Israeli leader’s trip. Administration officials have said it would breach protocol to host a foreign leader so close to his domestic election. Israel will select a new parliament March 17.

In a statement, Mr. Durbin said he regretted the Israeli leader’s decision and continued the meme of deriding as partisan the original Netanyahu invitation by Capitol Hill Republicans.

“We offered the Prime Minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker (John) Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong,” he said. “His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades.”

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