Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined an invitation on Tuesday to meet with U.S. Senate Democrats during a visit to the country scheduled for next month.
Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Cal., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had invited Netanyahu to a closed-door session, which he declined to attend. Netanyahu is set to address congressional Republicans on March 3 in a speech that has become contentious after Republican leaders invited Netanyahu without consulting the White House or Congress Democrats.
"Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit," Netanyahu said in a letter to the senators, Reuters reported.
The two Democrats had, in their invitation, reportedly warned of “lasting repercussions” to U.S.-Israel relations if Netanyahu were to engage in partisan politics. "This unprecedented move threatens to undermine the important bipartisan approach towards Israel - which as long-standing supporters of Israel troubles us deeply," the Democrats wrote in their invitation on Monday, Reuters reported.
President Barack Obama has denounced Netanyahu’s speech, saying that it will come too close to the Israeli general election in which Netanyahu’s Likud party is running for re-election. Obama has also declined to meet with Netanyahu during the latter’s trip to the U.S.
Durbin called the Netanyahu’s decision “disappointing” in a statement, NPR reported. “We offered the Prime Minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from [Republican House] Speaker [John] Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong. His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades."
However, Netanyahu, in his letter, said that he understood that support for Israel in the U.S. Congress is bipartisan, and that he did not plan to polarize the issue. He also said that he looked forward to addressing a bipartisan meeting of senators in the future.
Over six House and Senate Democrats have said they will skip Netanyahu’s speech, calling it an affront to Obama and his handling of the Iran nuclear talks, The Associated Press reported. The White House has previously accused the Israeli government of distorting and hobbling the ongoing talks to regulate Iran’s nuclear program.