Speaking to American Jewish leaders, Netanyahu holds firm on Congress speech

Ben Sales

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Speaking to a group of American Jewish leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his intention to address Congress next month, despite calls for him to cancel the speech.

In a speech Monday night to a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Netanyahu said the March 3 address to a joint session of Congress is a crucial opportunity to try to halt Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The speech has generated controversy, as Netanyahu opposes a possible agreement between the U.S., world powers and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The speech also comes two weeks before Israeli elections.

“I’m going to Washington because as Prime Minister of Israel, it’s my obligation to do everything in my power to prevent the conclusion of a bad deal that could threaten the survival of the State of Israel,” he said. “The current proposal to Iran would endanger Israel.”

Netanyahu called Congress the “world’s most important parliament” and said a speech could influence the body, which may be able to block an agreement with Iran. The prime minister added that he is making the speech March 3 because the deadline set by the negotiating parties comes three weeks later, on March 24.

“Now, can I guarantee that my speech in Congress will prevent a dangerous deal with Iran from being signed?” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know. No one knows. But I do know this – it’s my sacred duty as Prime Minister of Israel to make Israel’s case.”

Earlier Monday, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the right-wing religious Zionist Jewish Home party, received loud applause from the delegation when he vowed to oppose territorial compromise.

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“We don’t want war, but the only way to prevent war is to be overwhelmingly strong and to use that power when necessary,” he said. “Never, ever again will we hand over one centimeter of land to our enemies, period.”

The delegation of U.S. leaders is in Israel until Thursday, and will also hear from otherIsraeli politicians, such as the left-wing Zionist Camp’s Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.