Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite continuing and mounting opposition to his plans to address the US Congress on March 3, including from American-Jewish organizational leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “determined to go” and make the case against an Iranian nuclear deal, a senior government official said Sunday.
The official’s comments came amid speculation that Netanyahu might, at the last minute, find a reason to put off the trip to Washington until after the March 17 election and avoid exacerbating tensions with the Obama administration.
Netanyahu, however, seems to feel that the speech against an Iranian nuclear deal cannot be delayed until after the election and the establishment of a new government, because by then it would be too late.
He alluded to this at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, saying that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks over the weekend and announced that they intend to complete a framework agreement by the end of March. It is precisely so as to warn against that agreement that Netanyahu has indicated he cannot put off the visit, and that there is a timetable that cannot be ignored. Israeli government officials said there is an ongoing dialogue with the Democrats, a number of whom have indicated that they might not be present when Netanyahu speaks before a special joint session of Congress. Aides to US Vice President Joe Biden indicated over the weekend that he will be traveling abroad at the time of the speech.
They said there is also an ongoing dialogue with the heads of Jewish organizations, some of whom – such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman and Rick Jacobs, who heads the Union for Reform Judaism – have urged Netanyahu to reconsider delivering the speech at this time.
In an interview with the Jewish Daily Forward last week, Foxman, called the prime minister’s plan to address Congress “a tragedy of unintended consequences.”
Telling the newspaper that the media frenzy surrounding the oration “turned the whole thing into a circus,” Foxman said that “one needs to restart, and it needs a mature adult statement that this was not what we intended.”
“Now is a time to recalibrate, restart and find a new platform and new timing to take away the distractions,” he said.
While Foxman did not dispute the urgency of dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the central focus of the speech, he told the Forward that the controversy detracts from Netanyahu’s message.
In a separate interview with the Forward, Jacobs said that Netanyahu should “rethink” the speech, calling it a “bad idea” that could turn support for Israel into a partisan issue.
“This is something we in the Jewish community cannot afford,” he was quoted as saying.
Seymour Reich, the former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is reported to have come out against the speech.
These objections, as well as those of some Democrats and media personalities, have come out in diplomatic cables that have reached Jerusalem from Israel’s consuls-general in the US.
Although those consuls are holding meetings in Jerusalem this week – meetings scheduled long before the current controversy – a meeting to discuss the matter with Netanyahu is not on the premier’s schedule.