U.S. President Barack Obama said he declined to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during the latter’s visit to the United States in March because it would be “inappropriate” two weeks before an election in that country.
A meeting so close to Israel’s March 17 election could be seen as helping Netanyahu.
“I’m declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is we don’t meet with any world leader two weeks before their election,” Obama said in an excerpt of a CNN interview released on Wednesday.
“I think that’s inappropriate, and that’s true with some of our closest allies,” the Democratic president told the network.
As an example, Obama said British Prime Minister David Cameron scheduled his recent visit to Washington far enough from his country’s election so “that it doesn’t look like in some ways we’re meddling or putting our thumbs on the scale.”
The reference to Cameron blunted the charge that the White House was displaying special disfavor by refusing Netanyahu while Obama did see the British leader before the latters election.
Meanwhile, the anti-Netanyahu daily Haaretz reported discontent among pro-Israel politicians and lobbyists in the U.S. Neither group was notified of Netanyahu’s plan to appear before Congress on March 3 ahead of the public announcement.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) “feels the same way about this invitation-speech that she felt about Netanyahu’s comments before the 2012 U.S. election,” a staffer wrote in an email. Two months before the 2012 vote, Netanyahu said Obama did not have a “moral right” to keep Israel from acting on Iran. In response, Boxer wrote to Netanyahu and said he had “injected politics into one of the most profound security issues of our time.”
Officially, AIPAC welcomed the news, but sources close to AIPAC and the Jewish congressional caucus were quoted as saying that bypassing them undercut their effectiveness and made little long-term sense for Israel.
“The bottom line is, it would have been smarter to consult,” said a source close to AIPAC.
Other sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambasador to the U.S., who reportedly was the go-between for Netanyahu and Boehner, deserved a share of the blame.
“Netanyahu is not being well served by who he sent here,” said one Democratic congressional staffer.