House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will lead a bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel next week. The visit — in honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary — should be cause for celebration in the Jewish state, hopeful anticipation in the pro-Israel community and a timely opportunity for Israel’s leadership to reassure American leaders and rekindle what is perceived to be a waning U.S. interest in the Middle East.
But that’s not going to happen. Instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to use the visit to settle a score with President Joe Biden. In doing so, Netanyahu will likely alienate even more members of the Democratic Party.
Biden and a rising number of Democrats in Congress have expressed concern about Israel’s controversial judicial overhaul plan and other policies. That chorus of opposition — largely in support of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets in peaceful yet powerful protest — helped sway Netanyahu to announce a soon-to-expire Passover pause on final consideration of the judicial reform proposal. Yet, shortly after that concession, Biden told the press he would not be inviting Netanyahu to the White House “in the short term.”
Netanyahu feels slighted. He has been back in office almost four months and still hasn’t been invited for a photo op at the Biden White House. So, in vintage Netanyahu style, he turned to Republicans to help him fight Democrats. In this case, he is using McCarthy, the fledgling speaker of the House, to respond to Biden’s perceived interference and slight.
McCarthy has his own problems. He holds the coveted speaker position but is struggling to find his footing. He limped through 15 ballots to be elected and, in the process, sold his soul to his party’s extreme right wing. The razor-thin but ideologically divided majority held by Republicans in the House has not been able to move forward on several major measures, including border security and a budget plan. Fractured Republican leadership is struggling with debt-limit issues. And they are having difficulty gaining traction in promised investigations of all things Biden.
Leadership of a bipartisan delegation to Israel seemed like the perfect opportunity to elevate McCarthy’s profile. That was made even better — at least for McCarthy — when Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, a Netanyahu ally, announced that McCarthy will address the Knesset, only the second time a House speaker has been invited to do so.
The last time was 25 years ago, when Newt Gingrich led a similar bipartisan delegation to honor Israel’s 50th anniversary and was invited to speak by then-prime minister Netanyahu. The Gingrich invitation was widely viewed as Netanyahu’s confrontational response to demands being made by then-President Bill Clinton for Israeli concessions in talks with Palestinians and criticism of Netanyahu’s efforts to rally Republicans to oppose Clinton’s demands.
Now, a new speaker, a new president, but the same Netanyahu.
Although Israel should unquestionably welcome and honor the McCarthy delegation, we don’t see the point in using the visit to incite discord or resentment. Netanyahu is already at the center of multiple controversies. He doesn’t need more criticism or hurt feelings from Israel’s most significant ally, and he certainly shouldn’t use the McCarthy visit for needless provocation of the U.S. president. ■