WASHINGTON – After a raucous, four-minute ovation upon Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s entrance into the chamber of the US House of Representatives, the
featured speaker turned to Vice President Joe Biden.
Noting that it was
his second time receiving the honor of addressing a joint session of Congress,
the first being 15 years ago during his first term as prime minister, he asked
Biden, “Mr. Vice President, do you remember the time that we were the new kids
in town?” The question elicited a pulse of laughter from the audience, which
intensified after a nodding Biden crossed himself.
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That warm beginning
set the tone for Netanyahu’s 45-minute speech
, which was interrupted more than
two dozen times by applause, the vast majority of them standing
One of them came during a rare note of discord during the
congressional display. A protester who sat in the crowd started calling for an
end to Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and unfurled a red banner soon
after Netanyahu began his remarks.
The protester was a Jewish-Israeli
woman from California who was arrested by Capitol police for “disrupting
Congress,” according to a press release put out after the event by Move Over
Once she started shouting, the members of Congress started to clap
and then rose to drown her out, to which Netanyahu said, “I think it’s a badge
of honor, and so should you, that in our free societies you can have protests.
You can’t have these protests in the farcical parliaments of Tehran or Tripoli.
This is real democracy!”
Though Netanyahu’s response earned another extended
round of applause, at some points the audience’s enthusiasm for his words was
not universal. When the prime minister said that Israel must retain a long-term
presence on the Jordan River, John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee who is close to Obama, listened but neither clapped nor
stood, unlike most of his colleagues. When Netanyahu said that peace can’t be
imposed, Kerry clapped, though in another contrast with the majority of the
chamber, did not stand.
When Netanyahu came calling for a Palestinian
state, there was in turn some hesitation on the part of the Israeli delegation
in attendance as to whether they should stand and applaud. In the end they did,
led by Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
Netanyahu also personalized the
speech, retelling the story of how he was almost killed in the Suez Canal, as
well as recalling that he lost his brother, Yonatan, in the 1976 Entebbe rescue
The warmth given to Netanyahu also spilled over to his wife,
Sara, often beleaguered in Israel. When she entered the hall in a bright green
dress and sat with the heads of Jewish organizations, the balcony stood and
applauded. Netanyahu, before beginning his speech, pointed to her and waved.
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