The United States Congress has stirred up a hornet’s nest over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the legislative body next month and now VP Joe Biden has added fuel to the fire by announcing that he will be out of the country, leaving his presiding chair empty during the foreign leader’s visit. Coming on the heels of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to Mr. Netanyahu without first consulting the White House and President Obama’s refusal to meet with his counterpart during his U.S. visit, this bodes for increasing tension in relations between Israel and the U.S.
The VP’s office claims that Mr. Biden’s trip has been planned for some time but they declined to release his travel plans just yet so where he is going and what he is doing that supersedes the courtesy of his presence in his chair as president of the Senate during the visit of a foreign head of state, remains a mystery. During his March 3 address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to speak about the dangerous prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The topic is a volatile one for the White House. President Obama has been coaxing Congress to postpone any further sanctions on Iran pending the outcome of negotiations in Geneva. Mr. Netanyahu’s message is expected to dismiss the negotiations as pointless and encourage the opposite putting the legislators in a bind between the president and the prime minister.
Netanyahu’s acceptance of Mr. Boehner’s invitation without so much as a “by your leave” to the White House set the president on edge about what they consider a “major snub.” In return Obama has declined to meet with the prime minister while he is in town, claiming policy against meeting with foreign leaders shortly before elections in their own country. Mr. Netanyahu faces the Israeli democratic process just two weeks after his visit to the U.S. Congress. Nonetheless, the empty VP chair will not go unnoticed.
Some Democratic legislators have openly admitted that they may not show up for Mr. Netanyahu’s speech. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, states that the president does not think that dividing relations with Israel along party lines is a positive. However, he does support the rights of individual members of the U.S. Congress to make up their own minds about attending the speech and officially recognizing the visit from a foreign head of state. However, if the Democrats follow the VPs example of absence and make good on their threats to boycott the speech, Mr. Netanyahu will be speaking to alot of empty chairs.
Reports are now coming out of Israel that the prime minister may have been misled into thinking the invitation was a bipartisan welcome so he is taken aback at the Democratic threats to go AWOL during his speech to Congress and the announcement of VP Biden’s empty chair just adds insult to injury. When asked by Tel Aviv Radio, Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister indicated that the chance to speak to the U.S. Congress about Iran before they vote on sanctions is too valuable an opportunity for Mr. Netanyahu to forsake his visit .
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser