Speaker McCarthy Aims To Reverse Biden Snub of Netanyahu

Visiting Jerusalem, the House leader says he’ll invite the Israeli premier to Capitol Hill if the White House refuses to extend the courtesy due to the proposed overhaul of Israel’s judiciary.

AP/Ohad Zwigenberg

It’s said that all politics is local, but an exception is when Jerusalem becomes an American political football: As the Democratic president refuses to invite Israel’s prime minister to the White House, the Republican House speaker is publicly planning to invite him to the Hill. 

Visiting Jerusalem Monday, Speaker McCarthy made an emotional speech to the Knesset, vowing to establish a “parliamentary friendship group” between the American lower house and the Israeli body. Leading a large bipartisan group of pro-Israel representatives, Mr. McCarthy also addressed President Biden’s snub of Prime Minister Netanyahu. 

If the White House refuses to host Mr. Netanyahu, “I’ll invite the prime minister to come meet with the House,” Mr. McCarthy told the Israel Hayom newspaper. Mr. Netanyahu, he added, is a “dear friend” and “a prime minister of a country that we have our closest ties with.” He said Mr. Biden has already waited “too long now. He should invite him soon.”

For now, even as both Mr. Biden and the Israeli premier highlight their decades of “friendship,” Mr. Netanyahu is now seen by the administration as a pariah, or worse, like a member of its favorite punching bag, “the MAGA crowd.”

Asked on Monday if the president is willing to negotiate with the House leadership over the debt limit issue, Mr. McCarthy said, “The president still hasn’t talked to me.  I’m a little like Netanyahu.”  

In late March the American ambassador to Jerusalem, Tom Nides, told reporters that the White House would soon invite Mr. Netanyahu for a visit. “No,” Mr. Biden said when asked about such an invitation. “Not in the near term.”

The topic is contentious in Israel’s increasingly fractured political discourse. As relations with America top the foreign policy agenda, Israeli leaders have long strived to cultivate bipartisan support in Washington. 

“Much to our peril, Israel has become a political issue in America,” a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, tells the Sun. “It started with Obama,” who as president has turned Israel into a Washington political issue. After that, “Bibi fell into Obama’s trap,” and now “we are very worried to see that support for Israel among Democrats is gradually diminishing.”

Newly elected Israeli prime ministers are traditionally treated to friendly White House receptions. Mr. Netanyahu was a welcome guest, until he wasn’t. In 2015 he addressed a joint session of Congress in an attempt to stop Mr. Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. The White House then became out of bounds for him. 

Mr. Biden is saying his refusal to host Mr. Netanyahu has to do with the Israeli struggle over a judicial overhaul, which is being widely resisted by Mr. Neatnyahu’s opponents. “They cannot continue down this road,” Mr. Biden said in March, referring to proposed Knesset legislation meant to weaken the judiciary. 

Republicans claim that the snub amounts to interference in Israel’s politics. “My view is that the United States should be a strong ally to Israel but we should not butt into their internal affairs,” Governor DeSantis said while in Jerusalem last week. “Our task as Americans is standing strongly and forthrightly with Israel.” 

Mr. McCarthy agrees. “We leave it up to you,” he told an Israeli reporter who asked Monday about the judicial overhaul. The senior Democrat on the bipartisan Israel trip, Representative Steny Hoyer, concurred that “ultimately” the Israelis will decide.

Yet, “the truth is friends give friends advice and counsel,”Mr. Hoyer added. “Frankly I’ve been in Congress long enough to recall president Netanyahu coming to the Congress and giving some advice on policy.”

Prior to that 2015 address by Mr. Neatnyahu, the White House and Israel clashed over other issues, including settlement policies. In 2010 Israel angered Vice President Biden when it approved new building permits at the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo just as he landed in the country. 

A similar crisis could erupt now if Mr. Biden invites Mr. Netanyahu to the White House, the Israeli ambassador to Washington at that time, Michael Oren, tells the Sun. 

“Just imagine that as the prime minister sits in the Oval Office, Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir announce new settlements,” Mr. Oren says, referring to two senior members of Mr. Netanyahu’s government. The White House doesn’t trust Mr. Netanyahu to rein in his far-right coalition partners, Mr. Oren says, adding, “the feeling in D.C. is that no one is at the helm” at Jerusalem.  

Such qualms aside, “I expect the White House to invite the prime minister over for a meeting, especially with the 75th anniversary” of Israel’s independence, Mr. McCarthy said Monday. He noted that this summer the Israeli president, Yitzhak Herzog, will be invited to address a joint session of Congress.

Becoming only the second House speaker to address the Israeli legislative body, Mr. McCarthy received bipartisan applause. Better yet, the California representative was serenaded later by a guitar-playing, openly gay Likudnik, Amir Ohana, the Knesset speaker, who treated his American guest to a rousing version of the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Some would say we haven’t had that spirit there since 1969.

The New York Sun

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