There’s Mounting Disapproval of Netanyahu’s Impending Congressional Address

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Photo: Sebastian Scheiner/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech on the dangers of a nuclear Iran before a joint session of congress — set for March 3, less than two weeks before his election at home — is meeting with ever-growing opposition from those who find it disrespectful to President Obama. But the Bibi-sitter, as he proclaimed himself to be in an Israeli election ad, has no intention of canceling, he reaffirmed on Monday.

I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people,” he said, according to Ha’aretz. “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us. Those who want to kill us are, first and foremost, any Iranian regime that says outright it plans to destroy us. I will not hesitate to say what’s needed to warn against this danger, and prevent it.”

Much of the opposition is swelling within Israel itself, where former ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich expressed fears “that this sets the prime minister and the U.S. administration on a collision course.” Isaac Herzog, a rival of Netanyahu’s, called it a “strategic mistake,” and the L.A. Times reports others asked the speech to be blocked from broadcast within the country. Reuters even suggests that internal conversations are taking place in Israel regarding the format of the speech — including whether it should be before a closed-door session.

And the sentiment that Netanyahu speaks for “all Jews” has also enraged some American Jewry. Even the Anti-Defamation League’s notoriously hawkish Abraham Foxman compared the controversy to a “circus.” J Street, the NGO that bills itself as both “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace,” launched a viral hashtag reading, “#BibiDoesntSpeakForMe.” Supporters of the campaign cite David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, who himself issued a statement to the same effect.

Already, Netanyahu is losing respect in the eyes of some Democratic legislators, increasing numbers of whom are simply refusing to attend his one-man show. Those who’ve opted out include many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Bernie Sanders became the first senator to boycott the speech Monday. “I’m not going,” Sanders said. “I may watch it on TV.” (Brian Schatz, a Jewish Senator from Hawaii, will also skip the speech, as will Senator Patrick Leahy.) 

President Obama maintains that his refusal to entertain Netanyahu has nothing to do with ambivalence toward his Israeli colleague’s goals. Rather, the White House has repeatedly stated that it is simply a matter of policy that the sitting president not cavort with other leaders too close to their reelection dates, for fear that such socializing might give the impression that the president endorses them over other candidates. But even reproach from the president himself, it seems, wouldn’t sway Netanyahu:

Mounting Criticism of Netanyahu’s U.S. Address