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


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.

On Monday night, Netanyahu told a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that the March 3 address to a joint session of Congress was a crucial opportunity in the effort to halt Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“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 of the speech, which has engendered controversy. “The current proposal to Iran would endanger Israel.”

Netanyahu opposes the agreement being worked out between the world powers, including the United States, and Iran, saying it will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The speech also comes two weeks before Israeli elections. Also, the invitation to speak from House Speaker John Boehner was kept secret from the White House and Democratic leaders.

On Monday, Netanyahu called Congress the “world’s most important parliament” and said a speech could influence the body, which may be able to block any agreement with Iran. The Israeli leader added that he was 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 asked. “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 religious Zionist Jewish Home party, received loud applause from the delegation when he vowed to oppose territorial compromise.

“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 other Israeli politicians, such as the left-wing Zionist Camp’s Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

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