Leaving Congress charmed

Netanyahu’s 45-minute speech was interrupted more than two dozen times by applause, the vast majority of them standing ovations.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER JERUSALEM
May 25, 2011 01:05
2 minute read.
Netanyahu receives applause from US Congress

Netanyahu addresses Congress 311. (photo credit: Avi Ohayun/GPO)

 
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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 ovations.

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 AIPAC.

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.

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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 operation.

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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