Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have significant support from many Democrats when he gives his speech to Congress next month, visiting Republican congressman Robert Pittenger told the premier during a meeting on Tuesday.
The North Carolina representative, along with Republican congressman Dennis A. Ross from Florida, met with Netanyahu and discussed the upcoming speech and the flap it has aroused.
Pittenger said that a number of his Democratic colleagues have told him they will attend the speech.
A number of others, as well as US Vice President Joe Biden, have, however, indicated they will not be there.
Pittenger, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, said that there was no reason for Netanyahu to cancel his planned address, and that his was a message that the American people needed to hear.
“Israel is on the front lines, fighting on our behalf against a terrorist state – Iran,” he said. “Believe me, he [Netanyahu] has enormous respect and love from the American people; they believe him.”
The controversy surrounding the speech, he said, was “misplaced attention.”
“In my opinion, he is the Winston Churchill of the day, warning the world about Iran,” he said. “Regrettably, [US President Barack] Obama is the Neville Chamberlain of our day, in denial of the enormous vulnerability we have to the potential nuclear capabilities of Iran.”
Pittenger denied that this issue has made Israel into a partisan matter that will harm the country’s interests in Washington in the long term.
“This has nothing to do with politics, but rather with the survival of Israel,” he said.
Ross said the bulk of their hour-long meeting focused on Iran. After listening to Netanyahu, Ross said, he was more convinced than before as to the dangers of a nuclear Iran.
“This is not just about Israel, it’s about the free world, and quite frankly, the future of civilization as we know it,” he said.
“If Iran has 200,000 centrifuges spinning, we know what the end result will be – a nuclear arms build up in the Middle East,” Ross said.
“We have to be prepared to act and the US people have to realize what is at stake here. There is no better person to deliver that message than the prime minister himself,” he said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, told Pittenger and Ross that he believes “the current proposal before Iran, handed over by the P5+1, is very dangerous to Israel and dangerous to the region and the peace of the world.”
Relating to the friction his planned speech has created, Netanyahu said that the Israeli-US alliance is “powerful” and based on common values and interests.
“We appreciate the support of Democrats and Republicans alike,” he said.
“We have a great national interest in preventing Iran from acquiring the means to develop nuclear arms.”
He said this was the reason he feels it important to speak to Congress and explain Israel’s position.
“There are those who think otherwise,” he said. “I am open to hearing their case, and I would hope that they would extend Israel – the country whose very existence is threatened by Iran – that same courtesy.”
Pittenger and Ross arrived in Israel on Monday morning and immediately traveled to the West Bank to see Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs.
They also visited the Gush Etzion bloc and toured a new nature conservation site, Oz Vegaon, set up by Women in Green in memory of the three teenagers who were kidnapped and killed by Hamas last June.
The experience, Ross said, was “eye opening.”
In Hebron, he said, “the influence of Israeli people has been reported as being so adverse and then you realize that only three percent of the population [in Hebron] are Israelis and the rest of it is the Arab nation and they control most of it.”
During their visit, they saw interactions between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank, Ross said.
“There is a lot of hope and promise there. Getting to see it on a one-on-one level gives you more hope that there is a good chance that peace can be reached in this region from a personal point of view,” he said.
On Tuesday, they toured the Israeli side of the Gaza border. On Thursday they are scheduled to tour Samaria and hold a town meeting in Jerusalem.
The trip was sponsored by Proclaiming Justice to the Nations and Yes! Israel Missions.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.