Cheers, handshakes, hugs, great applause, standing ovations… that’s how Robert Fishman describes the way in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was greeted when he addressed both houses of Congress on March 3.
Although Fishman, who serves as director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, was disappointed with the diplomatic missteps on the part of Israel that surrounded Netanyahu’s appearance, there was much about the speech of which he approved.
“I thought it was valuable that, before the Prime Minister laid out his reason for being opposed to the deal, he included pieces of Jewish history and referenced Purim – and the fact that Iran was Persia – as well as the Holocaust and Elie Wiesel,” said Fishman, who attended the speech as a guest of Senator Chris Murphy.
“The speech was an important balance between appreciation for the U.S.-Israel relationship and for the office of the President and Obama himself, and the history of the Iranian nuclear program, without being overpowering or ‘lecturing,’ as some people said. I think it was an important statement: if Israel has to stand alone, it will; we defended ourselves before we had a state and now the Jewish nation must defend its people. That’s his role as Prime Minister.”
According to Fishman, not everyone in the chamber was as enthralled with Netanyahu’s viewpoint.
“A number of the African-American members of Congress did not stand and applaud,” he notes, “but they were polite. There were a few times that they stood, but not like everybody else – and they were not the only ones who did so.”
Still, Fishman felt that, the genisis of the speech not-with-standing, it was better for Connecticut’s congressional delegation to attend. “They may not have been happy with how it was politicized,” he said, “but the fact is, it was important to hear a message that deeply involves the U.S., Israel and the worldviews.”
Though many Democratic congressmen and senators boycotted the talk, Connecticut’s all-Democrat delegation was present in almost full force – only Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro stayed away.
The Ledger asked the members of the state’s delegation to comment on the speech. Their responses are included below. At press time, we had not yet received responses from Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Joe Courtney.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy: “I strongly support Israel and I’m glad I went to hear what Prime Minister Netanyahu had to say. However, I agree with Ambassador Michael Oren and other former Israeli ambassadors to the United States who share my concern that the timing and execution of the speech needlessly injected politics and partisanship into our strong relationship with Israel.
“We must do everything in our power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and I believe the current negotiations are the best way of doing so. I agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that we must push for the absolute best deal possible, and we should be willing to walk away from the table if Iran won’t meet our key demands. Many of the concerns he raised in the speech are ones I have raised in private meetings with the White House. However, I trust that our negotiators are working hard to get the toughest deal possible and I will reserve final judgment until there is actually a deal on the table that Iran has agreed to.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (3rd District): “I decided not to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the United States Congress. I was uncomfortable not attending because I am a strong supporter of Israel, understand its unique security needs, have travelled to Israel over many years, have a special bond with Connecticut’s Jewish community, and I have always supported bipartisan efforts to achieve the highest level of sanctions against Iran and its nuclear ambitions. That has allowed President Obama to pursue negotiations of a potential agreement to keep Iran from getting to the threshold of a nuclear weapon. I support those negotiations. If the negotiations fall short I will not hesitate to support more sanctions.
“This partisan invitation by the Republican leaders of Congress who oppose the negotiations is meant to undermine the negotiations that I support, is disrespectful of the President of the United States and, worst of all, leaves America’s relations with Israel stuck in the same polarized, partisan mud that keeps us from doing the right thing in so many areas. That is deeply harmful to Israel. So I felt it is wrong to attend the address that is part of Speaker Boehner’s partisan game plan and part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign plan in Israel.
The United States and Israel have a bond that has been forged by our shared values as democracies and our common interests. We will be allies for years to come, as we work together for a world where Israelis can live in peace and security. I will continue to work to actively foster bipartisan support for Israel.”
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (5th District): “While I believe the timing and politicization of Speaker Boehner’s invitation – particularly this close to Israel’s elections – was a serious mistake, I attended Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech earlier today because I respect the strong relationship between the United States and Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s voice is one of many that I will consider as I thoroughly review the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Clearly, a nuclear-armed Iran is against our national security interests. To prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, we must vigorously enforce sanctions against Iran, continue to work with our allies to build international pressure, and closely monitor the disarmament negotiations in advance of the March 24th deadline. My focus is ensuring that any final agreement advances the best interests of the United States and our global security. ”
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (4th District): “I attended Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech out of respect for the state of Israel and its importance as one of America’s closest allies. I continue to have deep concerns with the unprecedented politicization of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which has always been above partisanship. Ultimately, we must prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but we shouldn’t close the door on negotiations. It’s in the best interest of the United States, Israel, our allies and the entire region to give diplomacy the broadest opportunity to succeed.”
U.S. Rep. John Larson (1st District): “Like my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I share a deep respect for Israel. That’s why I attended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech and why I remain committed to preserving and maintaining the crucial relationship with our greatest ally in the region. I continue to believe, however, that all diplomatic options must be thoroughly exhausted in the Middle East and am troubled by any discussion that does not put a premium on peaceful solutions. I remain confident in our Administration’s ability and restraint to negotiate and understand that we cannot allow misinformation or partisanship to jeopardize our leverage. I join in remaining cautious until seeing final details of any deal but know that, regardless of any politics or rhetoric, unity remains our biggest strength.”