A significant development in the ongoing rift between the Obama administration and Israel’s government: it appears White House plans to snub AIPAC’s upcoming policy conference are intensifying over Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address before Congress.
AIPAC officials have known for weeks that neither President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, or Secretary of State John Kerry would likely attend, already a notable and unprecedented snub. Now, the Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration may not even send a Cabinet-level representative to the conference:
The White House is mulling ways to undercut Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Washington and blunt his message that a potential nuclear deal with Iran is bad for Israel and the world in what has become a nasty grudge match.
Among them … a pointed snub of America’s leading pro-Israel lobby, which is holding its annual meeting while Netanyahu is in Washington.
The administration has already ruled out meetings between Netanyahu and Obama, saying it would be inappropriate for the two to meet so close to Israel’s March 17 elections. But the White House is now doubling down on a cold-shoulder strategy, including dispatching Cabinet members out of the country and sending a lower-ranking official than normal to represent the administration at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the officials said.
The Obama administration has not yet responded to AIPAC’s traditional White House invitation to the conference being held March 1-3, and an anonymous official has indicated that discussions of the snub are ongoing.
This is just one more indication of the damage House Speaker John Boehner and Netanyahu are doing to relations between the two countries by turning Israel into a political football. It is also an indication of the opportunity Netanyahu’s speech before Congress is presenting the White House – an opportunity for Obama to publicly distance himself from Israel’s hawkish leaders and America’s right-wing ‘pro-Israel’ lobbyists, who are astonishingly working in concert to undermine U.S. foreign policy.
As I’ve written, this is an historic opportunity for Obama to not just distance himself from Netanyahu and AIPAC on the issue of Iran, but on matters of Middle East peace as well. Indeed, with Netanyahu claiming that he will be speaking for “the entire Jewish people” before Congress on March 3, now is the time for Obama to amplify progressive and liberal Jewish voices who make up the 52 percent of U.S. Jews supporting Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Iran. And it is the time to amplify progressive voices in general, including Iranian- and Palestinian-Americans who stand opposed to such hawkishness.
Snubbing AIPAC’s conference is a first step toward accomplishing this. The next step should be to amplify the voices of those Jewish members of Congress boycotting Netanyahu’s speech as well as those Jewish communal leaders and citizens who stand opposed to AIPAC and Netanyahu’s efforts to push our country toward a war it doesn’t want.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.