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February 11, 2015 2:15 pm

Biden Snub Amplifies Obama Administration’s Tension With Israel

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Vice President Joe Biden (center), pictured here at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 7, will skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech to Congress. Photo: State Department.

JNS.org – The latest episode in a history of tension between the Obama administration and Israel has escalated to a new level, with US Vice President Joe Biden opting out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech before a joint session of Congress on the Iranian nuclear issue and radical Islam.

Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu to address Congress, and the prime minister accepted. The Obama administration claimed Boehner breached “protocol” by not consulting it about the invitation, but Boehner said he did give the White House a “heads-up that morning” about his plans. Netanyahu has said that he needs to follow through with the speech due to the threat posed to Israel by a possibly unfavorable nuclear deal between world powers (including the US) and Iran.

American vice presidents—who also serve as president of the US Senate—are normally in attendance when foreign leaders address Congress, usually sitting behind the podium along with the speaker of the House. Biden’s office, however, said he will be traveling to an unspecified location abroad on the day of Netanyahu’s speech.

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“Given the stakes and the hour, Biden’s decision to not even listen to Netanyahu’s speech is an abdication of his most basic responsibilities,” David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), told JNS.org. “It is the victory of politics over duty.”

Michele Bachmann, the former Minnesota congresswoman and presidential candidate, told JNS.org that skipping the speech “was an error in judgment on the part of the vice president and on the part of his staff.” She said that at a time when Israel “is clearly under attack from all quarters, when there is a rise of anti-Semitism across the world,” the White House should instead be “bending over backwards to show the rest of the world that the United States stands with Israel.”

US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), the only Jewish Republican in Congress, told JNS.org, “The prime minister, who is coming to Washington to speak to Congress and the American people about the critical security issues that threaten the survival of his democratic nation, should be welcomed with open arms. The vice president and all of Congress should embrace this opportunity to hear the concerns of our strongest ally.”

Amid the fracas surrounding Netanyahu’s speech, the White House also said that President Barack Obama would not meet with the prime minister when the latter travels to Washington, DC next month, citing the close proximity of the visit to Israel’s March 17 national election. Yet last weekend, Biden and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry both met with Labor party leader Isaac Herzog—who is considered the biggest threat to unseat Netanyahu as prime minister in next month’s election—at the Munich Security Conference. At the same time, recent reports have detailed the joint election campaigning against Netanyahu by the State Department-funded organization OneVoice International and the Israeli grassroots group V15.

Bachmann called it “hypocritical” for the Obama administration to state its opposition to Netanyahu giving a non-partisan speech before Congress “when the information has come to light that 16 of President Obama’s former campaign re-election staffers are now in the process of being on the ground, in a get out the vote effort, to bring out voters in opposition to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

“I believe that President Obama and Vice President Biden owe the American people, as well as the people of Israel, an apology and a response as to why a president has weighed in so vociferously in the upcoming election in March in Israel, and I think the best way to demonstrate true neutrality in the upcoming election would be for Vice President Biden to attend the prime minister’s speech and for President Obama to issue an apology and a statement,” Bachmann said.

Tension between the Obama administration and Israel has been an ongoing saga since Obama took office. Multiple incidents in March 2010 marked what many perceived to be new lows in US-Israel relations. After Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new housing units in eastern Jerusalem while Biden was visiting the Jewish state, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton devoted a 45-minute phone conversation to rebuking Netanyahu. Later that month, when Netanyahu visited the US, Obama reportedly exited a planned dinner with Netanyahu and instead ate with his family after Netanyahu stalled in responding to Obama’s demands on Israeli construction. Netanyahu was left to eat alone, and Obama was quoted as telling Netanyahu, “Let me know if there is anything new.”

Then came a controversial May 2011 speech in which Obama said, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” Israel considers those borders indefensible. Though more positive energy between Obama and Netanyahu was apparent when Obama made his first visit to Israel as president in March 2013, the leaders’ relations have continuously soured over differences on Iran’s nuclear program and failed US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Last October, an anonymous senior Obama administration official was quoted as calling Netanyahu a “chickenshit.”

David E. Bernstein, the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, traces the roots of Obama-Netanyahu tension back to Obama’s approach at the outset of his presidency.

“The Obama administration came in thinking that it wanted to make a peace deal with Israel and the Palestinians, and that Netanyahu was going to prevent that,” Bernstein told JNS.org. “They wanted to either force Netanyahu to make concessions, or force him out of power. So against all common sense, the first two things they did were tear up President [George W.] Bush’s agreement that Israel would keep the settlement blocs in any peace agreement, and force an unprecedented settlement freeze on Israel. Neither of these things brought Netanyahu to heel, nor did he lose power. Worse, the Arab side didn’t respond to [the Obama administration] at all with any meaningful concessions.”

“Meanwhile, Obama and Bibi don’t see eye to eye on Iran. … Add a complete lack of personal chemistry between Obama and Netanyahu, and you get a situation in which bilateral ties are still quite strong, but relationships between the two current administrations are atrocious,” added Bernstein.

In 2011, Boehner sent the White House an advance notice of his intent to invite Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. The White House did not respond, and Boehner followed through with the invitation. Netanyahu spoke before Congress that May—without a 2015-style controversy associated with the event.

“The White House did not express any outrage in 2011,” wrote Ed Lasky, news editor for the American Thinker website. “That was before [Obama’s] 2012 re-election, of course, so Obama did not want to run the risk of losing any support. … Boehner clearly assumed the same series of events was occurring when the White House failed to respond this time to the notice given to the White House before he sent an invite to Netanyahu.”

Asked about the significance of the president of the Senate (Biden) skipping a congressional speech by a foreign head of state, George Mason University’s Bernstein called that aspect “purely symbolic.”

“In constitutional theory, the vice-presidency is an independent office, with the only real role other than waiting for the president to die being president of the Senate,” Bernstein said. “In practice, the vice-presidency has evolved into a part of the administration of the president who chose him. Given that, it’s not surprising that Biden, as effectively a part of the Obama administration, would choose not to attend.”

But CUFI’s Brog said Biden’s skipping of the speech is significant because the vice president “influences decisions that will impact the future security of America and the world.”

“Especially on an issue as serious as Iran’s nuclear program, he has a sacred duty to solicit many opinions—including dissenting ones—before making a decision,” Brog told JNS.org.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that while Netanyahu accepted the invitation to address Congress about the existential threat posed by a nuclear Iran, “the ensuing controversy, including the specter of the vice president’s absence, instead focuses on strained U.S.-Israel relations and domestic American politics.”

“The Iranian regime must be thrilled,” Cooper told JNS.org. “As the clock ticks down to a March [24] deadline [for a political framework agreement between world powers and Iran], the centrifuges continue to spin, intercontinental ballistic missiles are developed, and Iran’s direct involvement in threatening Israel’s northern border is on display. But none of this evokes protest from President Obama.”

—With reporting by Sean Savage

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  • I think we should get all the Palestinian out of Gaza, put them on Obama care and moved them all to North Korea where Mr. Kim can keep them occupied…..

  • Yale

    What this is really about is that the course of the negotiations with Iran has proven that Netanyahu has been right, and Obama wrong, all along, and Obama is psychologically incapable of admitting that is ever wrong.

  • RobiMac

    Hey Biden! Take Obama with you to that unspecified location abroad AND DON’T COME BACK!

  • Joe Biden will be moonlighting that day. He’s a clown when not serving as V.P. Obama will be getting fitted with a new pole he wears under his suit that makes him sit erect–he lacks a spine!

  • Message being sent is obvious. The next time some of liberal minded Rabbis decide to protest against the police , or in Fergenson , Missouri, or the streets of America for causes involving other minorities, remember how the Prime Minister of Israel is being disrespected. Tell me this is not being orchestrated by Obama. Many of the black leadership are boycotting and the V.P. conveniently is out of town. He realizes he needs Jewish votes if he runs for President.

    • Jews speak out. Iran is the enemy of the State of Israel. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  • kris Kristian

    OBAMA HAS ALLOWED UNTOLD MILLIONS OF MUSLIMS INTO AMERICA
    IF I WANTED TO LIVE IN USA, I WOULD NEED TO QUALIFY FOR GREEN CARD
    NOW THOSE IMMIGRANTS WHO ARE TROUIBLE MAKERS,HAVE TAKEN OVER MUCH OF NY.
    DONT TRY TO DRIVE THRU SOME main STREETS ON FRIDAY.
    THEY HAVE TAKEN OVER THE STREETS.
    nd they build many mosques.
    They want to build SUPER grand mosques next to 9/11

  • kris Kristian

    WHY HAS Obama NOT BEEN IMPEACHED. HE HAS CAUSED MORE ROUBLE AROUND THE WORLD THAN ANY PREVIOUS potus>

    HE HAS OVER RIDDEN MUCH OF THE US CONSTITUTION

    • RobiMac

      Because America wants communism.

  • steven L

    The democrats will pay in 2016.

    • RobiMac

      Don’t hold your breathe. Obama has/is building a dictatorship empire, there’s no way he’s turning it over to anyone else to run. If a crisis has not occurred by Nov. 2016, Obama will create one to justify his declaration of marshal law. You can bank on that.

      Lest anyone forget, there’s still a matter of the missing nuke.

  • There is something wrong with this picture. Vice-President of the United States will not attend a major address by the leader of the only democratic nation in the Middle East that has a long friendly relationship with America. Then to place more petulent behavior stacked higher than high, the President will not meet with the Israeli Prime Minister. Further, members of the President’s party have indicated that they will also not attend.

    What message does this send to the American public? What message is sent to other allies of America? What is the take away from the Iranians and other Islamo-Fascist?

    The world is beingl set on fire and President Obama Fiddles out off tune.

    • Emanuel

      The message is Democrats are leftists, fascists and enemies to our country and we should spare them no dignity, respect or deference.

  • Bernard Ross

    how did the US come to elect these two complete idiots and failures?

    • RobiMac

      Obama was not elected. Presidency is won by election. He was shoe-horned in by Communist Party USA headed up by none other than Obama’s puppet master, George Soros via voter fraud.

  • Bernard Ross

    Biden is a loser going nowhere

  • manley kiefer

    When Netnyahu speaks before Congress we will see what our administration is made of and their treatment of our only ally in the Middle East. Obama is not running for office and doesn’t need the Jewish vote. Most of us voted for him trusting him to be Israel’s friend. I like Obama and most of his policies, except his disregard for Israel.

  • Larry

    What do you want, our incompetent CIC is a “community organizer”.

  • What Mr. Netanyahu should is go by Caroline Glick’s suggestion in her book “The Israeli Solution” incorporate the “West Bank” into the rest of Israel. History shows there will no “Palestinean Solution” without the complete destruction of the state of Israel. There will be no compromise with the Palestineans. That is not in their vocabuary. Israel will have to wait until Hussein Obama is gone.

  • art

    Can any person with an iota of intelligence deny that Obama hates Israel and seeks to destabilize it. Obama has violated prior administration promises and guarantees by rejecting them or disclosing info(leaking info on nukes, Patriot missiles, assassinations(Lebanon) etc) Obama set boundaries pre ’67, declared Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria an occupation and ruled the “settlements” illegal these acts undermined Israels position and encouraged pa intransigence. The continual pressure of Israeli concessions stiffened pa demands, similar to the iranian intransigence has Obama retreating from red lines. It is clear that the Obama treaty will shield iran from any interference with its nuclear weapons program the reduction of sanctions also reward iran for its hardline. Even the IAEA has stated that iran has obstructed them and can not be trusted

  • Jack Kopowitz

    Perhaps we should acknowledge the wisdom of Joe the plumber,
    who warned us in 2008 that Obama was no friend of Israel.

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