White House officials said Tuesday that President Barack Obama, whose relationship with Israel routinely garners attention due to his reported tension with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plans to visit the Jewish state this spring. A specific date for Obama’s trip, which will also include Jordan, was not announced.
“The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria,” National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Obama, who visited Israel when he ran for president in 2008 but has not yet visited while in office, decided to take this trip following a Jan. 28 phone conversation with Netanyahu, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said in a statement Tuesday that it is “thrilled to learn” of Obama’s visit.
“We are proud of the President’s unprecedentedly pro-Israel record and this upcoming trip will provide President Obama with yet another opportunity to affirm the unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel,” NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley said.
Obama’s announcement comes at a time when his administration has come under fire in the pro-Israel community for the nomination (and expected confirmation) of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. Hagel, who infamously referenced the “Jewish lobby” in 2008 when speaking to former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, chairs the Atlantic Council think tank—which in December published a column titled “Israel’s Apartheid Policy” as well as a policy paper predicting that Iran “should be viewed as a potential natural partner” for the U.S. Hagel, as a senator, did not sign various pro-Israel letters backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but did sign a 2009 letter asking Obama to directly negotiate with Hamas.
Obama and Netanyahu have disagreed on setting a “red line” that if crossed would prompt U.S. military action against Iran over its nuclear program—Obama has thus far resisted Netanyahu’s calls for a red line, calling those calls “noise” in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” last year.
Last September, Obama reportedly rejected a meeting Netanyahu had requested with him when the prime minister visited the U.S. for the United Nations General Assembly. The White House, at the time, denied that report.
NJDC’s Stanley also noted new Secretary of State John Kerry’s plans to visit Israel in the coming weeks, commend both Kerry and Obama “for placing Israel and its security needs at the top of the Administration’s foreign policy agenda for President Obama’s second term.”