Netanyahu says speech will go ahead as planned

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is determined to speak to Congress on March 3.

“At a time when there are those who would deal with protocol and politics, an agreement with Iran is taking shape in Munich that would risk Israel’s existence,” Netanyahu said on Twitter, apparently referring to talks over the weekend in the German city between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

“Therefore, I’m determined to travel to Washington and present Israel’s position before Congress and the American people,” he said. “From the day the State of Israel was established, there have been substantive differences between Israel and the United States. Relations remained strong. That’s how it will be this time.”

Earlier Monday, there were reports that Netanyahu was considering recalibrating the March 3 speech to a joint meeting of Congress that has infuriated the White House and congressional Democrats.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the U.S. House of Representatives speaker, invited Netanyahu without consulting with the White House. Reuters on Monday reported that Boehner’s office confirmed that the March 3 date still stands.

The Obama administration said its top officials will not meet Netanyahu during his visit and a number of Democrats in Congress are saying they will stay away – most recently Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Va.), who is Jewish.

President Barack Obama, meeting Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reiterated his view that meeting Netanyahu two weeks before Israel’s March 17 election would be inappropriate.

“As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation from the White House,” the president said before pausing and adding, “And I suspect she wouldn’t have asked for one.” Merkel vigorously nodded.

Obama said his views on Netanyahu’s speech were separate from disagreements between the governments on Iran. Boehner invited Netanyahu in part to rebut Obama’s claims that nuclear talks now underway between major powers and Iran are productive. Netanyahu, like many Republicans, believes the talks are headed for a bad deal.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index, which polls security issues each month, reported this week that a majority of Israeli Jews – 57 percent – believe Netanyahu should not deliver the speech because of its proximity to the elections.