Israeli PM Netanyahu arriving to U.S., Americans divided on speech

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  March 1, 2015 at 1:41 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive to Washington, D.C., on Sunday as he prepares to address Congress on Tuesday -- a speech that nearly half of Americans have a problem with.

Netanyahu departed Ben Gurion airport in Israel on Sunday soon after telling reporters he will carry out with his speech as planned, despite opposition from politicians and Jewish leaders.

"I'm going to Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I feel deep and sincere concern for the security of Israel's citizens and for the fate of the state and of all our people," he said. "I will do everything in my power to ensure our future."

Netanyahu is scheduled to speak about the dangers of a nuclear Iran to a joint session of Congress two weeks before elections in Israel.

On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said "scaremongering and spreading lies" by Netanyahu won't stop Iran from reaching a nuclear deal with world powers. Zarif accused Netanyahu of attempting to "derail peace in the region."

Almost half of American voters, 48 percent, believe that Republicans in Congress should not have invited Netanyahu to speak without first notifying The White House, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

About 30 percent didn't have a problem with the invitation and 22 percent didn't have a strong opinion either way, according to the poll. The poll was divided along party lines with 66 percent of Democrats against the invitation, compared to just 28 percent of Republicans.

President Barack Obama is not scheduled to meet the prime minister. The planned speech has created controversy and criticism of Netanyahu.

"Iran wants Netanyahu's speech -- since [Iran] understands that it will weaken Israel's bipartisan bond with the U.S.," General Amiram Levin, ex-commander of the northern command and former deputy chief of Mossad, said at press conference in Tel Aviv Sunday morning. "For Iran, a strategically weak Israel is an asset which will help Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, since they know that it will prevent a viable military option against them."

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice has called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming address to Congress "destructive" to U.S.-Israeli relations.

The speech has also created a rift in the Jewish community. Some pro-Israeli leaders urged Netanyahu to cancel his speech, while some condemn the possibility of a speech boycott.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said it was a "bad idea" for Netanyahu to carry out his speech.

Israel's Central Election's Committee recently announced that Netanyahu's speech to the U.S. Congress will receive a five-minute delay when it is broadcast in Israel, in an effort to allay fears of possible electioneering.

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