Pence Expected to Visit Israel Next Month for Anniversary of Auschwitz Liberation

The event has caused tensions between the offices of Netanyahu and President Rivlin, who fears Netanyahu will hijack the event for his re-election campaign

Mike Pence speaks at the Christians United for Israel's annual summit, Monday, July 8, 2019.
Mike Pence speaks at the Christians United for Israel's annual summit, July 8, 2019.Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Vice President Mike Pence is expected to visit Israel in January for a ceremony marking 75 years to the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, an event that is expected to draw other world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Israeli officials hoped to see U.S. President Donald Trump at the event, but since he is expected to be in Europe for the World Economic Forum, there are ongoing talks between American and Israeli officials about Pence being the senior American representative instead.

The event, set to be held on January 27, is jointly organized by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial organization. In recent weeks, however, the event has become the center of tensions between the offices of Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over who will presented publicly as the "host" of the foreign dignitaries.

Rivlin's office is reportedly unhappy with Netanyahu's attempts to take over the international event for his re-election campaign. In this year's previous election cycles, Netanyahu has highlighted his diplomatic experience and rapport with Putin and Trump. According to sources, he finds it important to appear side by side with world leaders just one month before Israel's election on March 2.

Likud election banners showing Netanyahu shaking hands with Trump and with Putin, Tel Aviv, July 28, 2019.Credit: Jack Guez/AFP

The Trump administration is also aware of the political tension surrounding the event, and doesn't want Pence's visit to Israel to appear as an attempt on its behalf to help Netanyahu's re-election efforts, according to two people who are involved in the ongoing talks over Pence's visit.

Washington has been frustrated by the fact that several gestures taken by Trump toward Israel over the past year have been presented in the American and Israeli media as politically-motivated attempts to help Netanyahu. This includes Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in March, exactly two weeks before this year's first Israeli election. Despite the timing of the announcement, the White House denied claims that it was tailored to suit Netanyahu's political needs.

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