Netanyahu to AIPAC: Congressional speech must go on

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC conference lauded President Barack Obama but expressed few regrets for the speech to Congress he will present that has angered the White House.

“I deeply appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel: security cooperation, intelligence sharing, support at the United Nations,” Netanyahu said Monday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, where he received multiple standing ovations.

“I am deeply grateful for this support and so should you be,” he said, encouraging the first warm applause at the mention of Obama’s name at the pro-Israel conference in Washington.

Netanyahu and the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, arranged the speech with the congressional Republican leadership without informing congressional Democrats or the Obama administration, stirring their anger.

Netanyahu said he regretted that the speech had been “misperceived” as partisan and said bipartisan support for Israel was critical.

“Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue,” Netanyahu said, adding however that his differences with the Obama administration over the course of Iran nuclear talks were too important not to take up the offer to speak to Congress.

“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there’s still time to avert them,” he said.

Netanyahu made clear that he believes the mistakes the Obama administration was making in reported concessions at the talks between Iran and the major powers were not in bad faith.

“Israel and the United States agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but we disagree about the best way to prevent Iran from developing those nuclear weapons,” he said.

Netanyahu also expressed support for Dermer, who has come under fire for his role in arranging the speech and keeping it secret from Democrats and Obama administration officials. He asked Dermer to rise for applause, calling him a “man who knows how to take the heat.”