Senior Democrats to Netanyahu: Reconsider Congress Speech

White House and Democratic Party leaders assert that Israeli prime minister's behavior in the affair was inappropriate.

Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been lobbying Democratic leaders to tone down their critique of his invitation to speak before Congress on March 3, with the U.S. legislators responding that he should reconsider the move, which could do damage to Israel.

The invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to Netanyahu last week sparked a serious crisis between the White House and the Prime Minister's Office, placing Israel in the political confrontation between Republicans and Democrats over negotiations with Iran. The White House and Democratic Party leaders asserted that Netanyahu's behavior in the affair was inappropriate.

According to a New York Times report, Netanyahu called Senate minority leader Harry Reid, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Reid told the New York Times that Netanyahu tried to explain to him why he accepted Boehner's invitation without first giving the White House a heads up.

Reid, who is considered a strong supporter of Israel, said he had a candid conversation with Netanyahu, in which he made it clear that the speech had become so problematic that Democratic senators had decided to drop their support for new sanctions legislation against Iran.

"It's hurting you," Reid told Netanyahu, according to the New York Times. "I said: 'You have to understand this. I'm not telling you what to do or what not to do, but you have to understand the background here from my perspective.'"

While Reid remarked that he did not specifically advise Netanyahu not to speak before Congress, he did stress he believed that Boehner exceeded his authority when he extended the invitation.

"This was not the right thing to do," said Reid.

According to Reid, Netanyahu promised him that his Congressional speech would be as nonpartisan as possible.

"He proceeded to tell me how distrustful he is of Iran, and that is kind of an understatement," Reid said.

Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, also issued a statement regarding her conversation with Netanyahu. She stressed that she warned him that his speech to Congress could undermine negotiations between the United States and Iran.

"I think that such a presentation could send the wrong message," Pelosi said.

She added that the fact that the speech was set two weeks before elections in Israel worried her.

"It's a serious big honor that we extend," she said. "That it should be extended two weeks before an election in a country without collaboration among the leaders of Congress, and without collaboration with the White House, is not appropriate."