- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A group of House Democrats pressed Israel’s ambassador Wednesday to postpone Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled address to Congress or move it to another venue to avoid the speech being a “thumb in the eye” to President Obama.

New York Rep. Steve Israel, who organized the private meeting with six fellow Jewish House Democrats and Ambassador Ron Dermer, said that the lawmakers pepped the ambassador with alternatives to stop the speech from becoming an embarrassment for themselves and Mr. Obama.

“I don’t know whether the prime minister would consider not coming, but I think there’s some considerations about whether that should be considered,” Mr. Israel said. “Hopefully a way will be found to defuse an unnecessarily tense situation.”

The White House and some Democratic lawmakers were outraged that House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, invited Mr. Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, where the prime minister is expected to sharply criticize the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran.

Democratic leaders complained that Mr. Boehner broke protocol by inviting Mr. Netanyahu without consulting the White House, but the speech also threatens to put on display the ruptured relationship between the Obama administration and the Jewish state.

Mr. Israel said Republicans were “playing games” with the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

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A spokesman for Mr. Boehner said the speech shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“America’s support for the state of Israel has always been a bipartisan issue in Congress, and it should remain so,” spokesman Michael Steel said.

Mr. Netanyahu has not indicated that he will change his plans for the March 3 speech.

Democratic lawmakers at the meeting included Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, both of Florida, Jerrold Nadler and Nita M. Lowey, both of New York, Sander M. Levin of Michigan and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Mr. Israel insisted that the brouhaha wasn’t about showcasing the rift between the Obama White House and Israel but about the “optics” and the “timing,” noting that the speech would be just days before Israeli elections.

“It highlights the fact that the Speaker decided that Israel would be a political football and that he would try to spike it in the end zone,” he said.

“Look, find me a president and I will find you — including Ronald Reagan — I will find you a president who had differences with Israel. What we do is we diffuse those differences. We don’t seek to exploit those differences and I think that’s what was done here,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu has loudly opposed the U.S. negotiating stance with Iran, which is developing nuclear weapons and has repeatedly owed to destroy Israel.

Some Democrats reportedly plan to skip the speech and Vice President Joseph R. Biden has not yet indicated whether he will attend, as protocol would generally require him to do as head of the Senate.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama will not meet during his Washington visit, the U.S. leader also citing the proximity to Israeli elections.

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