The Slatest

Is Obama Trying to Get Payback on Netanyahu With Rice’s “Destructive” Remarks?

These guys are like two peas in a pod.

Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

The Obama administration took its sharpest jab at Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned Congressional speech next week, as National Security Adviser Susan Rice called the visit “destructive” on Tuesday.

“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 told Charlie Rose.

After specifically referencing the timing of Netanyahu’s visit as coming shortly in advance of Israel’s election in less than three weeks, Rice declined to say that he was visiting in order to boost his electoral prospects.

“I’m not going to ascribe motives to the prime minister,” she said. “The point is, we want the relationship between the United States and Israel to be unquestionably strong, immutable, regardless of political seasons in either country, regardless of which party may be in charge in either country.”

The visit, during which Netanyahu is anticipated to argue against a nuclear deal with Iran, was orchestrated by House Speaker John Boehner without the knowledge of the Obama administration and has been criticized as a break in diplomatic protocol

“[The relationship between Israel and the United States has] always been bipartisan,” Rice said. “We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that way. And when it becomes injected or infused with politics, that’s a problem.”

The idea that the relationship has always been bipartisan was actually tested three years ago when Netanyahu was seen as having attempted to influence the 2012 election in favor of Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney.

Romney and the Israeli prime minister were friends for over three decades and during the campaign he and campaign booster Sheldon Adelson visited Israel together as Netanyahu’s guest. They also took part in a fundraiser for Romney in Jerusalem, and Netanyahu was featured in a pro-Romney campaign ad.

Though the Israeli ambassador denied after the fact that any meddling had occurred, the moves were reportedly viewed in both Israel and the United States as blatant politicking by Netanyahu.

“A very senior Israeli figure who is in close touch with members of the U.S. administration relates in private conversations that in the eyes of the Democratic administration, Netanyahu is perceived as campaigning on behalf of Mitt Romney,” wrote Haaretz’s Yossi Verter.

After the election, former prime minister and Netanyahu rival Ehud Olmert accused him of attempting to interfere in the U.S. elections against diplomatic protocol. 

“What took place this time was a breaking of all the rules, when our prime minister intervened in the U.S. elections in the name of an American billionaire with a clear interest in the vote,” Olmert said at the time.

With all of this history, it seems worth asking: Was Rice’s rebuke the Obama administration’s way of getting payback on Netanyahu for 2012?

If Rice’s rebuke is Obama’s version of turnabout, then it seems doubtful anyone in the administration will say so. Even while criticizing Netanyahu’s speech plans, Rice took pains to say that the administration wanted a continued strong bipartisan relationship with Israel.

“The relationship between Israel as a country and the United States as a country has always been bipartisan. And we’ve been fortunate that politics have not been injected into that relationship,” Rice said. “We’ve worked very hard to have that and we will work very hard to maintain that.”

Further compounding the view that partisan politics have already begun to fray the relationship, Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday an invitation to visit with Senate Democrats because “I believe doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.”