Alan Edelstein

Much ado about an invitation?

The US Administration has opted to turn the affair into 'Invitegate' rather than deal seriously with Iran

It seems that the controversy over the invitation extended by Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak before a Joint Session of Congress simply will not diminish.

Yes, it appears that Speaker Boehner breached traditional protocol in not consulting with the White House. Yes, it appears that the Prime Minister may have been wrong in not asking Speaker Boehner whether he had followed tradition. And, yes, Israeli Ambassador Dermer was totally off base if he was the mastermind of a plot to circumvent and embarrass the President.

I used the words “appears” and “may” because it has now been revealed that Speaker Boehner’s invitation stated that this would be a bipartisan event, and because, in a correction of a prior report, the New York Times revealed that the White House was, in fact, informed about the invitation. So, while tradition may have been violated in some respects, it seems that the breach of protocol and the asserted disrespect may not have been quite as egregious as originally characterized.

In any event, the controversy will not die. It appears that we could be approaching “gate” status. As in “Invitegate.”

All of this is bad. Bad for Israel. Bad for the United States. Bad for the U.S.-Israeli relationship. And, most importantly, it is good for Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

The head of a foreign legislature invites you to speak. Do you have every right to expect that the head of the legislature has followed the proper protocol? Is it the invitee’s responsibility to pick up the phone and say something like: “Your counterpart in the other branch of your government has invited me. Did he check with you? Are you o.k. with it?”

Obviously, it is ridiculous to expect the invitee to ask such questions. But that does not mean that this is a good situation. That’s why it would be a great idea for the Prime Minister to plan on coming down with the flu around March 1st.

But why do the invitation and the speech continue to be the focus of attention? Who is allowing the issue to continue to fester and grow? Who seeks every opportunity to amplify it rather than to let it die and get on with focusing on the real issue, which is the possibility of Iran being allowed to retain thousands of centrifuges and reaching a nuclear breakout status?

I suggest that the Obama Administration wants this controversy to continue in an effort to discredit Netanyahu and to convince Israeli voters to vote against him. Could the Administration be trying to influence another country’s election? Can you imagine?

Yes, Speaker Boehner was arguably wrong for issuing an invitation in the manner that he did. Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu may have been remiss in not touching bases with the President’s representatives. And, yes, Ambassador Dermer might be a conspiratorial former political operative posing as an ambassador.

Even if all true, does it warrant the kind of attention and umbrage the Administration and its allies are demonstrating? This is an Administration that can overlook Cuba’s decades of repression to engage in a rapprochement with the Castro regime.

The President can pay homage to a dead Saudi king and a new Saudi king who leads a regime that in the span of 10 days flogs a blogger for espousing the virtues of freedom and chops the head off of a woman because her husband allegedly committed rape.

But when it comes to having the leader of a strong ally that is the only democratic state in the Middle East the Administration give a speech on a threat to its very exist the Administration cannot get over an alleged breach of protocol?  Protocol is more important than hearing from the ally’s leader on one of the greatest issues of our time?

One wonders if the Administration’s perspective may have been a bit different if the Prime Minister was backing President Obama’s approach rather than pointing out major flaws in it.

One wonders if the level of animosity and purported umbrage would have been any less if the invitation had gone completely by the book, or even if there was no Congressional speech and only a speech before AIPAC.

As a Washington Post editorial recently made clear, the fact is: 1) The Obama Administration is prepared to allow Iran to have the capability to develop a nuclear bomb in short order. 2) The Obama Administration is allowing Iran to extend its sphere of influence in the Middle East, at the expense of our allies. 3) The Administration is planning a complete end-run around Congress.

The fact is that Prime Minister Netanyahu is the major figure leading an effort to defeat a signature move of the Obama Administration to change the Middle East and the world’s order and to do it without Congressional approval. One doubts that the Obama Administration would have welcomed that effort regardless of the niceties of the invitation process.

Anyone upset by Prime Minister Cameron calling senators to lobby against the Menendez-Kirk bill, at the Administration’s request? I imagine Senators Menendez and Kirk are not too happy with our strong ally England’s interference in domestic affairs. No one seems to mind. Or at least no one has continued to harp on President Obama’s encouragement of this foreign interference in the legislative process.

At least Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech will be a public event, providing all parties an opportunity to critique and respond. In contrast, Prime Minister Cameron’s lobbying efforts were done quietly and privately, giving no one an opportunity to offer counter-arguments.

Anyone think it was wrong for President Obama, on his first and only Presidential visit to Israel, to skip the traditional speech to the Knesset and, instead, to go to the Jerusalem convention center where he implored an audience of young people to pressure the Israeli government?

Israeli papers and a few politicians remarked upon the slight for about a day. Prime Minister Netanyahu kept his lips zipped.

Anyone take offense when the President told Senator Menendez and other senators that he knew they were being pressured by “major donors” within hours of imploring everyone in his State of the Union to remain civil and to stick to the merits of issues?

The only one who seemed to get upset at this impugning of the integrity of senators with a thinly veiled reference to the old bogeyman of Jewish money and influence was the senator himself. He reportedly left the meeting. The next day he stated that Obama’s talking points were sounding increasingly like they were written in Tehran.

My point is the Administration has chosen, as they often do with Israel, to make an arguably inappropriately-issued invitation into “Invitegate” rather than to deal with the real issue in a serious way. In contrast, the Netanyahu government said little or nothing when the President breached protocol, and virtually no one has criticized his witting or unwitting reference to a time-worn anti-Semitic slur.

Some Democrats are now threatening to boycott the speech. They are purportedly upset that they have, in their views, been forced to choose between supporting President Obama and Israel.

Really? Overlooking an alleged breach of protocol in how an invitation was extended in order to afford an audience to the Prime Minister of a staunch ally who wishes to present his views on an issue going to the survival of his nation is a difficult choice for these officials?

Who is disrespecting who now? The Administration expressed its displeasure. That should have been the end of it. Now, for Democrats to boycott the Prime Minister is a huge insult to the Prime Minister and to Israel. It would be one that this voter would not soon forget.


NY Times columnist Tom Friedman seems to be losing it. He is fast approaching court jester or what in another time would have been called “house Jew” status.

Friedman’s latest piece on Invitegate seems to suggest that Israeli foreign policy, whose objective is the protection of Israel’s nine million citizens, should be based on what makes Tom Friedman comfortable and what protects Tom Friedman and his fellow American Jews from unfair blame should the United States eventually decide that it is in its interest to have a war with Iran.

Based on these criteria, Friedman suggests that Israel lay low, do nothing, and let the United States handle the matter.

As is his habit, Friedman presents his very NY Times, I-spoke-to-a-few-of-my-friends-from Haaretz, I-know-best, Israelis-are-petulant-little-brothers-who-don’t-behave, and-all-will-be well-if-they-just-listen-to-big-brother-and-follow-my-logical-advice-perspective.

For Friedman to think that the biggest worry that Israel should have right now is that Netanyahu is offending Obama and some Democrats, or that Israel should lay low so as not incur people’s wrath if the U.S. eventually does something militarily, or that Israelis or anyone else in the Middle East have any faith that the Obama Administration will actually do something militarily against Iran (especially in light of recent articles about Obama’s vision for Iran’s role as a stabilizing force in the region), is simply naive and foolish.

The idea of Iran being allowed to maintain centrifuges or be within a couple of months of having a nuclear weapon is an existential threat to Israelis. This is theory for Friedman. It could mean the death of millions of Israelis.

Would Friedman have counseled Churchill to lay low and not to offend when he was begging for help against Germany because it was putting pressure on FDR, or irritating some isolationists, or it might give Lindbergh some ammunition to use against those Brits meddling in U.S. affairs?

For Israel, the threat that it faces is just as imminent and just as serious, if not more so. Friedman might think a bit differently if he was living in Israel instead of in the comforts of the New York-Washington corridor in which he is held in such high esteem.

About the Author
Alan Edelstein made Aliyah in 2011 and lives in Jerusalem. He was the founding partner of a well-respected California government affairs firm and was involved in California government and politics as a lobbyist and consultant for 30 years. He blogs at He can be reached at
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