“Disagreements over Israel’s security have occurred between prime ministers in Israel from the left and from the right and American presidents from both parties,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 10. “None of these disagreements led to a rupture in the relationship between Israel and the United States. In fact, over time, our relationship grew stronger.”
Citing examples from history in the special video statement, Netanyahu mentioned Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948 that was made by Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion despite opposition by the United States. Other examples he cited were Israel’s preemptive strikes in 1967 and 1981 despite U.S. opposition, as well as Israel's decision to go ahead with an invasion of Lebanon in 2002.
“We do have today a profound disagreement with the United States administration and the rest of the P5+1 over the offer that has been made to Iran,” said Netanyahu about the current diplomatic impasse over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weaponization program. “This offer would enable Iran to threaten Israel's survival.”
During the 2012 presidential election cycle, Netanyahu was widely seen as having endorsed Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. Since then, relations between Obama and Netanyahu allegedly soured further after the Israeli leader said he feared that the U.S. was negotiating a “bad deal” with Iran. Now, Netanyahu said that deal would allow Iran to “break out to a nuclear weapon in a short time,” and shortly possess the “industrial capability to produce many nuclear bombs for the goal of our destruction.”
Netanyahu dismissed claims that there is a deep personal dislike between the two national leaders. “I deeply appreciate all that he has done for Israel in many fields,” Netanyahu in reference to Obama. “Equally, I know that the President appreciates my responsibility, my foremost responsibility, to protect and defend the security of Israel.”
Netanyahu dismissed concerns on the part of congressional Democrats who object to the manner in which House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited him to speak to a joint session. “I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country,” Netanyahu said. He added that Congress “might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran.”
Left-wing lobby group J Street sent a letter to all the members of Congress to urge them to oppose Netanyahu’s speech that is scheduled for March. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats (a presidential hopeful) has already said that he will sit out the speech.
Distributed online, the J Street leader missive mentioned a campaign ad distributed by Netanyahu’s Likud party in 2013 that used a clip from a previous speech to Congress. "As the attached video clip clearly shows, this is exactly what happened in the last Israeli election two years ago," wrote J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. He added, "Our Congress should not be used as a prop in another nation’s election…We urge you to convey to Speaker [John] Boehner that the speech should be postponed until after the election, when Congress could welcome Israel's next leader speaking on behalf of all of Israel's people."
Abraham Foxman, who leads the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League, and Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism, have both urged Netanyahu not to speak to Congress. Critics likened them to American Jewish leaders who prevented fellow Jews, Peter Bergson and Ben Hecht from speaking in Washington about the Nazi threat to Europe’s Jews in the 1930s and 40s.
Netanyahu’s speech is planned for March 3. Since Israeli elections are set for March 17, some in Israel believe that the speech would constitute a violation of a new law that bans broadcasting a campaign speech 60 days before an election. His supporters, however, contend that a matter as important as the national security of Israel warrants the broadcast of the speech.
On its website, J Street is asking for signatures to express opposition to the speech. It said:
Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would be representing all Jews when he addresses Congress next month. He said he's coming to Washington "not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people."
He's in the middle of a tough election campaign, battling along with other party leaders for the right to represent Israelis--but he certainly cannot claim any mandate to speak for Jews in the United States.
Add your name. Help us let his Ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, know that--as an American, as a Jew--Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't speak for you.
Among the signatories today was Rabbi Michael Brown of Toronto. Reportedly, J Street has collected more than 20,000 signatures.
In a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on February 9 President Obama defended his decision to not receive Netanyahu. “It’s important for us to maintain these protocols, because the U.S.-Israeli relationship is not about a particular party,” he said. “The way to preserve that is to make sure that it doesn’t get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics.”
Among the other groups opposed to the speech are CREDO and MoveOn.com. Also, an effort is being spearheaded by Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), the only Muslim in Congress, to lead other Democrats in a demand that the speech be delayed until after the Israeli elections.