WASHINGTON (JTA) — House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to both chambers of Congress on Iran and radical Islam.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement Wednesday.
“In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” he said. “Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”
Israeli reporters on Twitter quoted Netanyahu’s office as saying that the prime minister had accepted the invitation.
Boehner’s letter to Netanyahu said the invitation was on behalf of the “bipartisan leadership” of Congress. A staffer in the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority House of Representatives leader, said Boehner did not consult with Pelosi.
Netanyahu would speak Feb. 11, according to the letter, just a month before Israeli elections. It would be his third address to Congress; he also spoke in May 2011 and in July 1996. Other prime ministers, including Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and the late Yitzhak Rabin, have addressed Congress, as did the late Israeli President Chaim Herzog.
The appearance by Netanyahu would be the first so close to an Israeli election.
The White House criticized the invitation. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Wednesday’s regular daily briefing that the invitation was a breach of diplomatic protocol. “Such invitations are usually made leader to leader,” he said.
The White House was not aware that an invitation has been extended to Netanyahu until Wednesday morning when Boehner’s office announced it in a statement. Earnest said that the Obama administration “will reserve judgment on the trip until we hear from Israel officially.”
Boehner’s invitation comes a day after President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech that he would veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, which Netanyahu has called for as a means of pressuring Iran in talks underway between the Islamic Republic and the major powers.
Republicans and a number of Democrats, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are seeking to pass the new sanctions.