October 27, 2021

Here’s What Benjamin Netanyahu Wants Congress to Know

“I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy,” the Israeli prime minister said during an address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention. I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel year after year, decade after decade.”

Netanyahu received a warm welcome in Congress this morning, getting a standing ovation before he began speaking. He praised President Obama for his support of Israel, and thanked the U.S. “for everything you’ve done for Israel.”

Then, he got right to Iran. “To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime,” he said.

“I’m standing here in Washington, D.C., and the difference is so stark,” he continued. “America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran’s founding document promises the pursuit of jihad and states are collapsing across the Middle East.”

Netanyahu was expected to deliver an aggressive warning against the nuclear deal taking shape between U.S. and Iranian officials. All sides want to keep Iran from gaining the capability to acquire a nuclear weapon. But the U.S. and Israel disagree over how to to do that. The American-led negotiations, Netanyahu believes, have resulted in an agreement that gives Iran too much leeway and threatens Israel’s national security. Netanyahu has expressed skepticism of the talks before, but these remarks had received considerable more attention because of political implications here and in Israel.

In Israel, the visit is essentially a campaign stop for Netanyahu, whose Likud Party is facing an election on March 17. It gives the prime minister a chance to build support for his party at home, where voters are starting to wonder if his Iran policy is working or has already failed.

House Speaker John Boehner caught the White House off guard in January when he invited Netanyahu to address Congress without consulting administration officials. In Congress, the visit quickly turned partisan, and nearly 60 Democrats in the House and Senate skipped Netanyahu’s visit in protest of what they believe is an attack on President Obama by congressional Republicans. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry, while speaking to reporters in Geneva, indirectly warned Netanyahu against sharing information about the ongoing talks during Tuesday’s speech.

Obama has said he won’t meet with Netanyahu this week so as not to appear like he’s trying to influence the Israeli elections. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the president didn’t watch Netanyahu’s speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference, and that he likely won’t watch the entire address to Congress.

Many people were itching to go to the historic speech, however. Boehner’s office told The New York Times it received requests for 10 times as many tickets as there were seats available, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said “the tickets are hotter than fresh latkes.”