Skip to main content

Israel woos senior Republicans as White House continues to snub Netanyahu

Government insiders are alarmed by what appear to be efforts to undermine the overtures to the White House.

TEL AVIV — US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that he believes President Joe Biden will invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House at some point, but no such visit is currently being planned.

"Israeli leaders have a long tradition of visiting Washington. President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu have known each other for a long, long time. I expect the prime minister will visit at some point," noted Kirby, adding that nothing has been scheduled for the moment.

Netanyahu and his aides have gone to a lot of trouble in recent weeks to distance one factor in the tense relations with the Biden White House: Yair Netanyahu. Netanyahu's son is on an indefinite trip abroad — first to Puerto Rico and now to Miami — and his vitriolic Twitter account that spewed out accusations of US plotting against his father has been silenced.

The chastened prime minister, after public rebuke by President Joe Biden and his staff, has taken advantage of his son’s absence to give a series of English-language interviews to international media outlets in an effort to restore his image as a pragmatic statesman. 

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Ambassador Mike Herzog, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and others have also been working to convince Biden that the time has come to invite the Israeli leader to the Oval Office. They have leaned on Netanyahu's few remaining bastions in the Democratic Party and the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby and highlighted Netanyahu’s suspension of the deeply controversial judicial reform that has spawned a mass pro-democracy protest movement in recent months.

However, all these efforts blew up in Netanyahu’s face this week, when his justice minister and champion of the judicial overhaul, Yariv Levin, was heard telling a closed-door meeting with ultra-Orthodox strategists that the US administration is cooperating with the protesters. Levin said in taped remarks leaked to the media that statements by American officials reflect such cooperation. While he said he does not believe anyone in Israel is "pulling their strings," he does think that US officials are "influenced" by the protest movement.

Government insiders were alarmed by what appeared to be efforts to rekindle US-Israeli tensions. 

Even as a senior US official was quick to deny Levin’s accusations, an Israeli diplomatic source accused the justice minister of undermining the administration's overtures to the White House. “We are almost back where we started. We feel like Sisyphus,” the source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, on a highly publicized visit to Israel by a bipartisan congressional delegation, took a dig at Biden, telling the Israeli Yisrael Hayom newspaper that if the president does not extend Netanyahu an invitation soon, he would invite him to address Congress himself.

Still, the memory of Netanyahu’s disastrous 2015 address to Congress, organized behind the back of the Democratic Obama administration, still rankles. “He will not make the same mistake twice,” the same source said. “Prospects of going to Congress without advance coordination with the president are slim to none. No one knows the outcome of the 2024 presidential elections, and this is a risky move even for Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu, who is well versed in the nuances of US politics, tried to downplay last week’s visit to Israel by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a hopeful Republican presidential candidate. But McCarthy’s visit — his first abroad since taking office in January — could not be played down. He was addressed the Knesset on Monday after Netanyahu welcomed him to Israel and the legislature. At a dinner in his honor later on, Knesset speaker Amir Ohana, his official host, treated him to an electric guitar rendition of “Hotel California.” The US state of California is McCarthy’s home state.

While one lawmaker who was present at the dinner speculated that the words “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave” may have been a reference to the resilience of the US-Israeli relationship, another guest, a diplomatic official, commented to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity: “Netanyahu does not want to check out — he wants to check in at the White House, but that does not appear in the offing.”

Levin’s comments certainly do not increase the prospects of a White House check-in. “It's not only what he said about the American administration," a senior Israeli diplomatic official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. "It's also his speech at the large right-wing demonstration last Thursday, at which he issued harsh and deadly criticism against the Supreme Court, claiming its rulings favor rapists rather than rape victims and terrorists rather than Israeli soldiers.” 

The official accused Levin of seeking to undermine the negotiations overseen by President Isaac Herzog between representatives of the government coalition and those of the opposition over the proposed legal reforms. “There are those who believe that he did it on purpose to spoil Netanyahu's efforts to calm tensions both in the domestic sphere and in the international arena," he added.

Relations between the Pentagon and Israel’s defense agencies continue unmarred by the public sniping and the back-to-back visits to Israel typical of pre-election Washington also continue unabated.

“Netanyahu will eventually visit Washington,” a Netanyahu aide told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in