Fury in US over Netanyahu speech plan


The shockwaves caused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to Congress in three weeks continue to reverberate, with senior Democrats announcing their intention to be absent.

While Mr Netanyahu continues to insist that it is his duty to address the US public over the impending nuclear agreement with Iran, his appearance is increasingly being seen as a personal affront to President Barack Obama.
In its latest snub to the Israeli prime minister, the Obama administration said that Vice President Joe Biden, who normally presides over joint sessions of Congress, would be away during Mr Netanyahu’s speech.

The vice president is supposed to be abroad, although it was not clear whether this was a scheduled trip, or where exactly he will be.

Mr Biden the most prominent absentee, but there are other Democrat representatives who have said they will not attend. The influential House Minority leader and former speaker Nancy Pelosi has also said she is considering not showing up.

In meetings in Washington last week, Jewish Congress members told Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that Mr Netanyahu’s visit — due on the eve of Israel’s elections and arranged without the involvement of the White House — could cause significant damage to Israel’s ties with the US. Even the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, urged Mr Netanyahu to cancel the speech.

The invitation to Mr Netanyahu, which was issued by Speaker John Boehner following discussions with Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, came at a period of heightened tension between the two countries. There is concern within the Israeli government that the P5+1 group of world powers, among which the US is the most dominant, is on the brink of signing a landmark agreement with Iran on the future of its nuclear programme.
While the Obama administration is insistent that it will only sign a deal preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Israeli officials claim that the deal will effectively allow Iran to remain a nuclear “threshold state”.

The Republican Party and some Democrat Congress members are supporting new sanctions on Iran, in defiance of the administration. These would likely scupper the talks with Iran. Mr Netanyahu’s speech is widely seen as supporting this position, and the administration has pointedly announced that no meetings are scheduled at the White House or State Department for the prime minister.

On Sunday, during an event with French-speaking Likud party members, Mr Netanyahu said that his speech to Congress was similar to his participation in the unity march against terrorism in Paris last month.
“I came to Paris not only as the prime minister of Israel but as the representative of the entire Jewish people. And as I went to Paris, I will go anywhere I am invited to make Israel’s case against those who try to destroy us. They are first and foremost the Iranian regime, who openly express their intention to exterminate us.”

The opposition in Israel has criticised Mr Netanyahu for what Labour Party leader Yitzhak Herzog called in a radio interview “causing direct harm to our crucial relationship with the US”. So far, however, the polls show Likud inching ahead of Labour. “Our voters appreciate that Netanyahu is capable of challenging the Americans on issues that are critical to Israel’s security,” explained a Likud minister.

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