WHITE HOUSE - The war of words is escalating over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to speak to the U.S. Congress next week.
National security adviser Susan Rice’s remarks on the subject Tuesday on the "Charlie Rose" interview show, the strongest yet from the administration, have raised further questions about the state of relations between the United States and its closest ally in the Middle East.
“On both sides, there has now been injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it's destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Rice said.
At issue for the administration is the fact the invitation to Netanyahu came from President Barack Obama’s adversaries in the Republican-led Congress, and his visit will not include a meeting with Obama.
White House officials on Thursday backed Rice’s words, saying relations with Israel should be above domestic politics.
“There is a long tradition in the United States of ensuring that the relationship between the United States and Israel isn’t just reduced to a relationship between political parties,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Rice’s remarks were the clearest yet on what some describe as the worst state of relations between a U.S. administration and Israel. Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Iran is one reason for the discord, but it has been apparent for years the two men do not get along personally.
The U.S.-Israeli relationship as a whole is seen as too big to fail. Obama has signed off on continued military support for the Jewish state, including funding of the Iron Dome missile defense system to intercept rockets from Gaza.
The troubles are due to the current set of circumstances, said former State Department official Aaron David Miller, now of the Wilson Center.
“You have the ongoing soap opera that basically constitutes the personal relationship between Netanyahu and Barack Obama," he said. "You’ve got the end game on U.S.-Iranian negotiations coming and the heightened sensitivities — both on the Israeli and the American side — you’ve got [Republicans] now for the first time in the Obama administration, in eight years, in control of Congress, and you’ve got Israeli elections.”
U.S. support for Israel has in the past usually been bipartisan, but a call Thursday by Democratic lawmakers for Democrats to walk out during Netanyahu’s speech on March 3 was another sign the U.S. approach to Israel could be changing.
Obama in the past has sometimes spoken at annual meetings of AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobbying group. This year, he’s sending U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers and Rice.