With all the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, it appears most American Jews stood behind the decision to address the legislature on the dangers of a nuclear Iran.
By: Atara Beck, Senior Writer, World Israel News
In the lead-up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to the US Congress, many organizations and individuals were, and continue to be, supportive of the right of the Jewish state to speak out in self-defense against a deal with Iran. US President Barack Obama opposed the speech, supposedly upset over the fact he was not informed of the invite in a timely fashion and citing the upcoming Israeli elections on March 17 as an excuse not meet with the prime minister during his visit to Washington.
Netanyahu considers the address critical to Israeli security given that nuclear negotiations with Iran, in which Israel is not included, are scheduled to conclude at the end of March. However, the invitation to speak to Congress was issued by Speaker of the House John Boehner without consulting the White House or the State Department. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi strongly implied in an interview on Israeli radio that the Prime Minister had been misled into thinking that the invitation was bipartisan. Over 50 Democratic members of Congress did not attend the speech.
A number of prominent Jewish organizations and individuals came out in support of Netanyahu’s address. They argued that the nuclear negotiations with Iran, which openly and routinely calls for the destruction of Israel, are too important for Netanyahu to postpone his speech.
Legal scholar Alan Dershowitz said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “As a liberal Democrat who twice campaigned for President Barack Obama, I am appalled that some Democratic members of Congress are planning to boycott the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 to a joint session of Congress.”
“Congress has every right to invite, even over the president’s strong objection, any world leader or international expert who can assist its members in formulating appropriate responses to the current deal being considered with Iran regarding its nuclear-weapons program,” Dershowitz said. “Indeed, it is the responsibility of every member of Congress to listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who probably knows more about this issue than any world leader because it threatens the very existence of the nation state of the Jewish people.”
Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel has been working in full cooperation with “America’s rabbi,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who placed a number of full-page ads in major newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post,in support of Netanyahu’s speech. Wiesel, whose writings stand unparalleled in telling the horrors of the Holocaust, stated his intent to attend the address, asking, “Will you join me in hearing the case for keeping weapons from those who preach death to Israel and America?”
Boteach, who is of Persian origin, also took out an ad to call out National Security Advisor Susan Rice for her criticism of Netanyahu. The ad noted her indifference to the Rwandan genocide, when she was reluctant to use the term “genocide” for fear that it would impact the November elections. Boteach suggested that she was showing similar indifference to Israel by demanding that Netanyahu stay silent on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. It concluded with information on the event, “The Meaning of Never Again: Guarding Against a Nuclear Iran,” featuring Wiesel, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Rep. Brad Sherman.
“AIPAC has always welcomed the prime minister’s speech to Congress, and we believe that this is a very important address,” said AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann. “We have been actively encouraging senators and representatives to attend, and we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from both sides of the aisle.”
The majority of Jewish lawmakers attended the speech. Rep. Steve Israel told the Washington Post that there had been discussion among the Jewish members of the House Democratic Caucus about what to do. He indicated that they primarily blamed Boehner for the situation, not Netanyahu, and would likely attend as a statement of support for good relations between the US and Israel. “When your adversary [i.e. the Republicans] sets a trap for you,” the congressman said, “you don’t walk into it.”