Photo: Reuters
Netanyahu in a previous Congress address
Photo: Reuters

Netanyahu considering changes to Congress speech after criticism

Officials consider closed-door session instead of televised address, or shifting the venue to AIPAC meeting; PMO says no changes made to Netanyahu's schedule.

Israeli officials are considering amending the format of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned address to the US Congress next month to try to calm some of the partisan furor the Iran-focused speech has provoked.



Netanyahu is due to address a joint session of Congress about Iran's nuclear program on March 3, just two weeks before Israeli elections, following an invitation from John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the house.


Boehner's invitation has caused consternation in both Israel and the United States, largely because it is seen as Netanyahu, a hawk on Iran, working with the Republicans to thumb their noses at President Barack Obama's policy on Iran.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Barack Obama in a White House meeting (Archive Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Barack Obama in a White House meeting (Archive Photo: Reuters)


It is also seen as putting Netanyahu's political links to the Republicans ahead of Israel's nation-to-nation ties with the United States, its strongest and most important ally, while serving as a pre-election campaign booster.


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As a result, Israeli officials are considering whether Netanyahu should speak to a closed-door session of Congress, rather than in a prime-time TV address, so as to drain some of the intensity from the event, a source said.


Another option is for the prime minister to make his speech at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington the same week, rather than in Congress.


"The issue has been under discussion for a week," said a source close to the prime minister's office. "(Netanyahu) is discussing it with Likud people. Some say he should give up on the speech, others that he should go through with it."


Officials in Netanyahu's office said that for now his schedule had not changed. "In the past days the prime minister has been approached several times about his trip to the United States," one official said. "At the moment there is no change in the plans."


An opinion poll by Israel's Army Radio on Monday said 47 percent of people think Netanyahu should cancel the address, while 34 percent say he should go ahead with it.


Speaking on radio last week, Israel's deputy foreign minister suggested Netanyahu had been "misled" about the speech, believing it to be bipartisan when the Democrats were not entirely on board.


While that may have created some room for Netanyahu to get out of it if the pressure at home and from Washington becomes too great, it may be too late.


If he withdraws now it may make him look weak with core voters. Furthermore, he needs an opportunity to play up his tough-on-Iran credentials before election, with national security an overriding issue for voters.


Addressing French-speaking members of his party on Sunday, Netanyahu appeared to commit fully to the March 3 appointment saying: "I will go any place I'm invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us".


פרסום ראשון: 02.09.15, 17:10
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