JERUSALEM, Israel – The week ahead will not be an easy one for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As he recovers from a concerning bout of dizziness and a fall caused – doctors believe – by dehydration while at the Sea of Galilee, a medical event which required an overnight stay in the hospital, the prime minister will be steering the nation through another week of protests against his government’s judicial reform plan.
Additionally, although the position of prime minister is the most powerful office in Israel, Netanyahu will govern in Jerusalem this week while the nation’s ceremonial leader, President Isaac Herzog, meets with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and later addresses a joint session of Congress.
It’s Herzog’s second visit in the past year to Washington, and in the nearly 8 months since the Netanyahu government was sworn in, no invitation is yet forthcoming from the Biden White House for the prime minister to meet with him.
Israeli prime ministers have endured decades of frosty receptions from presidential administrations: Menachem Begin with Jimmy Carter in the 1970’s, Yitzhak Shamir with George H.W. Bush in the early 90’s, Benjamin Netanyahu with Bill Clinton in the late 90’s, and Netanyahu again with Barack Obama from 2009 to 2016.
For the most part, Israeli politicians know from experience that snubs from American administrations are to be taken with a grain of salt and covered in public with kind words about the “special relationship” between the two nations.
Many, if not most of the past disagreements revolved around U.S. pressure for Israeli governments to conform to the exchange of “land for peace” with the Palestinians, which was supposed to lead to the end goal of a Palestinian state, which has not materialized under the Oslo Accords.
This time, the atmosphere seems different. YNet News quoted a minister from the prime minister’s Likud Party who said, “The American administration is behaving in an unfair and humiliating way toward Netanyahu. It is an embarrassment to Netanyahu’s honor to beg for a meeting. It is definitely a difficult and problematic event.”
Another difference is that for several months, opposition leaders in Israel have been calling the government’s proposal for judicial reform a “coup,” apparently questioning the elections last November, which were widely acknowledged to be fair and certainly were decisive.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared recently on DemocratTV to urge the Biden White House to downgrade relations with Israel, and then went global, adding, “I call on world leaders not to meet with Netanyahu.”
Washington’s preferential treatment of Israel’s president at the expense of its prime minister may create a week’s worth of favorable media optics inside the Beltway, but the possibility looms large that it will create a backlash in Israel, where the effects of the anti-government protests are beginning to wear on the public at large during the warm Israeli summer.
Citizens here are keenly aware of the Iranian nuclear threat, the recent incursions from Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, the cauldron of rivalry among Palestinians contending for power in the era after Mahmoud Abbas, and the violence occurring almost daily against Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, not to mention domestic concerns such as inflation, wages, and judicial reform.
Demands to isolate and ostracize the elected prime minister of Israel – either foreign or domestic – are, in the long run, not likely to benefit the proponents of such tactics.