Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, on Feb. 25. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

Just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to visit Washington, stirring some partisan bickering, a new Pew poll captures how Americans view him.

The polls shows that 38 percent have a favorable view of him, with 27 viewing him unfavorably. And as you would expect, there is a partisan divide in how people view Netanyahu, who at the invitation of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) will speak before Congress on March 3. Republicans like him more than Democrats by 25 points. But for 35 percent, the sometimes-controversial leader is essentially a blank slate.

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Netanyahu is up for reelection March 17, and the White House has pointed to the proximity of that date as a reason the Hill speech is inappropriate. And the public, at least according to a recent poll, thinks that House Republican leaders were out of line in inviting Netanyahu to speak without notifying the White House. Some 63 percent say it was the wrong thing to do, and 33 percent say it was the right thing to do, according to a CNN poll. National security adviser Susan Rice said Netanyahu's decision to accept the invite has "injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it's destructive of the fabric of the relationship."

"It's always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that way. And when it becomes injected or infused with politics, that's a problem," she added.

But the subjects of Netanyahu and Israel have always been infused with politics.  Notice all the name-dropping about Israel and Netanyahu at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week, lines that typically drew applause from the crowd.

The Pew numbers show that conservative Republicans are among the most supportive of Netanyahu.  Nearly 60 percent of conservative Republicans have a favorable view of him, and almost the same percentage of white evangelicals.

 

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Netanyahu's speech, which will be cheered in some circles and criticized in others, will be one of the most high-profile and partisan appearances he has ever made here. His numbers are good now, but his big speech next week could change all that -- or just be another blip and conservative/liberal talking point.