A number of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top political rivals have been invited to speak at the American pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference in March, two weeks ahead of national elections in Israel, according to Israeli TV reports Saturday.
According to reports on channels 12 and 13, Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, and Moshe Ya’alon received invitations to speak at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, as did Labor Party chief Avi Gabbay.
Lapid was invited to AIPAC before merging his Yesh Atid party with Gantz’s Israel Resilience this week to form the Blue and White faction, Channel 12 reported, and it was unclear if they would attend.
The report said Gantz, a former military chief, was expected to accept the invitation.
While leading Israeli politicians regularly speak at AIPAC’s annual conference, this year’s event comes a little over two weeks before April 9th’s Knesset elections in which Netanyahu and Gantz’s parties are competing almost head to head, according to recent polls.
It is not yet known whether the reported invitees, should they attend, will appear on the main stage before a crowd of some 16,000-18,000 or at smaller sessions.
Netanyahu is expected to address the March 24-26 conference and is reportedly hoping to arrange a sit-down with US President Donald Trump at the White House while in Washington.
The prime minister has often touted his close ties to Trump, who scores high popularity marks among Israelis, and his Likud party has rolled out giant campaign billboards at major traffic junctions of the two leaders shaking hands.
While AIPAC does not usually weigh in on Israeli politics, this year’s conference will come after the group’s rare rebuke on Friday of a deal, brokered by Netanyahu himself, that could see the extremist Otzma Yehudit party enter the Knesset through a merger with Jewish Home.
AIPAC did not mention Netanyahu by name but slammed Otzma Yehudit as “racist and reprehensible” and reiterated its policy not to meet with its leaders who are disciples of the late Jewish supremacist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Netanyahu’s political maneuvering to include Otzma Yehudit in an alliance of small national-religious parties also drew rebukes from electoral rivals such as Gantz and Lapid, who the premier fired back at on Saturday.