Netanyahu Reportedly Considering Canceling Speech To Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently realizing that speaking to Congress may not be a good idea after all.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering backing away from his planned address to a Joint Session of Congress next month in an effort to avoid the partisan firestorm that the speech has created in the United States:

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

Netanyahu is due to address a joint session of Congress about Iran’s nuclear programme 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.

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.

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.”

But Netanyahu told voters from the Russian speaking community on Monday evening that he was determined to discuss Israel’s objections in Washington to an emerging deal withIran but he did not say if that meant a public speech in Congress.

“I am … determined to go to Washington to present Israel’s position to the members of Congress and the American people,” Netanyahu said, repeating that nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands would constitute an existential threat to Israel.

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.

There are also other signs that the increasingly partisan nature of the speech to Congress, and the impact that it appears to be having on U.S.-Israeli relationship, is having an impact on the upcoming Israeli elections and the fortunes of Netanyahu’s Likud Party. A new Times Of Israel poll, for example, shows Netanyahu’s Likud Party falling behind the opposition Zionist Union Party and Netanyahyu’s personal popularity falling.  That same poll also shows that nearly 50% of Israelis think that the Prime Minister should cancel his speech to Congress. While it’s hard to decipher what these numbers would mean for the ability of either Likud or the opposition to form a governing majority in the wake of the upcoming elections, the fact that the Prime Minister’s numbers are declining at the same time that the perception is growing that he is damaging Israel’s most important foreign relationship are no doubt related and are likely related to the apparent concerns that Reuters makes note of here. Indeed, it would be surprising if Netanyahu’s advisers weren’t weighing the possibility of backing away from the speech. With Democrats openly announcing that they will not be attending the speech, and even the Vice-President using the excuse of a trip outside the country to miss what would otherwise be something that members from both sides of the aisle would attend, it became blindingly obvious last week that the Prime Minister was stepping into what had become an openly partisan dispute in the United States, and that proceeding forward with the speech would be a mistake. At this point, Netanyahu would arguably gain more by announcing that he was postponing the speech until after the elections than he would by proceeding forward.

As I noted when I first wrote about this speech, it has been evidence from the beginning that Netanyahu was walking into a partisan firestorm on Capitol Hill that, in the long run, would not be in the best interests of his country. For better or worse, the White House had made clear that it believed that it was inappropriate for Congress to invite Netanyahu to speak on regarding a matter that was an open area of dispute between a Democratic President and the Republican Congress, and certainly not to do so at a time that would be barely two weeks prior to elections in Israel that will decide whether or not Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. If anything, the weeks since then have made that even more apparent. If Netanyahu knows what’s good for him, and for his country, he’ll cancel the speech and move on. Otherwise, he risks doing real damage both to Israel’s relationship with the United States and his own political future.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    * gasp *. Now that was a surprise …

  2. KM says:

    If Netanyahu knows what’s good for him, and for his country, he’ll cancel the speech and move on.

    If he knew what was good for him, he never would have said yes. Netanyahu’s been around long enough to know this was sketch and accepted anyways. Lie down with dogs, don’t be surprised to wake up with fleas.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    So Boehner and Netanyahu walked into Obama’s clever trap. A trap that Obama set, once again, by in effect saying, “Proceed Governor”, and shaking his head in disbelief as they kept digging. Slow learners.

  4. 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.

    Yeah, because that won’t look political at all.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Mr. Obama has been amazingly lucky in his enemies. Six years of mediocre and sub-mediocre intellects continuously claiming that Mr. Obama isn’t very smart, isn’t up to the job, is in over his head — all the racist code words. And Obama keeps beating them and beating them and beating them, never even needing to resort to a scowl.

    Apparently it never occurs to right-wingers to wonder, if Obama’s so markedly inferior, what his constant success says about them. Smart people build their enemies up so their victories seem to be pre-ordained and of little consequence and their defeats become cause for celebration. It takes real idiots to denigrate and belittle the person who keeps kicking their asses.

  6. Reflectionephemeral says:

    “I thought it would make me look tough on TV but it’s not actually in Israel’s long-term interests” pretty well sums up Netanyahu’s career.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And all this time people kept telling me how smart Netanyahu is (I don’t understand Israeli politics in any way shape or form) and I really don’t understand what Boehner thought he would accomplish with this stunt either. This seems to have been stupidity squared.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    I was trying to think of the analogy to explain the relationship between Mr. Obama and his opponents. And it’s a cliché, but as is so often the case, it goes back to Python.

  9. CET says:

    The thing that surprises me is that this seems to mark a very different (and to my mind, healthier) US/Israel relationship than in the past.

    Compare this to the USS Liberty incident for example, when Israel bombed the **** out of an NSA vessel in international waters and the White House swept the whole issue under the rug to avoid offending our dearest ally…

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: As near as I can figure out, pragmatism is utterly incomprehensible to a lot of people.

  11. Paul L. says:

    Figures Doug would be promoting Obama regime planted stories.
    Bibi to Dems: Boycott all you want. I’m still giving the speech on Iran…
    @michael reynolds:

    Apparently it never occurs to right-wingers to wonder, if Obama’s so markedly inferior, what his constant success says about them.

    Like his 6 year start of the 30+ years of that Democrats will control the Congress and White House and usher in the progressive era that will exceed the New Deal as predicted in 2008.

  12. Stan says:

    Let’s not neglect the role played by Israeli Ambassador Dermer. Diplomats play an important role in informing their own governments about the politics of the countries they’re accredited to. In this context, Dermer has been a disaster. Anybody with an IQ in triple digits would know that accepting Boehner’s invitation would backfire, given Netanyahu’s tilt toward the Republicans in 2012 and the contempt he’s shown toward President Obama and Vice President Biden. The Israeli public knows this, and so does Abe Foxman, an important figure in the American Jewish community and a committed supporter of Israel. So I suspect that Dermer is on the way out, and it can’t happen soon enough.

  13. John says:

    @KM: Good for him, Israel? 42% of American’s want him to speak / 23% don’t care one way or another and the rest of you are crying.

  14. anjin-san says:
  15. JohnMcC says:

    Netanyahu’s speech, wherever it’s given and whomever is present, will come and go. The controversy will stain Leader Boehner from now on. Gosh, this ‘governing’ business turns out to be HARD, don’t it!

  16. Mr. Prosser says:

    @michael reynolds: “Come back and fight, ya pansy!”

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The basic problem with Dermer is this: he is not a diplomat. He’s a political operative. A strategist. A campaign consultant masquerading as an ambassador. He doesn’t understand diplomacy. His job is to get his boss reelected.

    The degree of contrast between Dermer’s qualifications for his role and those of our ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, couldn’t be more blatant. Dermer is woefully out of his depth.

    On that note, given how badly he just coughed up the ball, I’ll agree and say that I suspect his continued occupancy at International Drive is probably coming to an end, and sooner rather than later. It’s overdue.

  18. JohnMcC says:

    @CET: I also look at US-Israeli relations through the lens of the USS Liberty. Thirty four sailors and marines were killed and 171 wounded. I happened to be in the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia at the time recovering with my purple heart and it made a big impression on the swabbies and jarheads there. But as to it being ‘swept under the rug’, I have a somewhat different conclusion. It was in the context of the Six Day War and the Israelis were the modern day David triumphantly killing the Arab Goliath; we both probably remember how Americans wanted to conscript Gen Moeshe Dayan and send him to command US forces in VietNam. And to be completely fair the IDF apologized and paid compensation the the US for the loss of the Liberty and also to the families of the dead and to the wounded survivors. Still, they never have regained their innocence in my eyes nor, I gather, in yours.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    the increasingly partisan nature of the speech to Congress

    Again…this began as a purely partisan stunt by the opposition party with the sole intention of undermining a sitting President and his Foreign Policy.
    Please explain how it is becoming more partisan?
    Are Democrats who refuse to play along with Republicans political theater making it more partisan by not playing along with Republicans political theater?
    The very idea that something that is purely partisan can become more partisan is nonsense. Pure nonsense.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @John: Israel is accepting immigrants now, I hear. Ohhh… You’re not a Jew? Well, you aren’t an American either. Sucks to be you.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    …and the Israelis were the modern day David triumphantly killing the Arab Goliath…

    How things change…

  22. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s how dumb the right-wingers on this thread are: they think it’s about whether he gives the speech or not. It’s an amazing capacity to reduce everything to a binary, and always at the most trivial level.

    What was the purpose of the speech from Bibi’s point of view? He was trying to push Congress to ratchet up sanctions and thus kill any possible arms deal with Iran. And how did that work out? He essentially made it impossible that the sanctions bill would pass without Mr. Obama’s approval. Went from “possible” to “no way.”

    What was Mr. Boehner’s purpose? To embarrass Obama and win over a slice of the Jewish vote. And how’s that working out? Not real well for Mr. Boehner. Not real well at all. Boehner’s had a very, very bad time since the election.

    What was Bibi’s other motive? To make himself look like a statesman two weeks out from his election. And how’s that working? Ooooh, not well. Not well at all. Far from looking like a statesman, he’s looking like a clown. His poll numbers are dropping, and this ain’t gonna get any better for him as it sinks in to the Israeli electorate that their Likudnik punk has done serious damage to the relationship that keeps Israel alive.

    Unfortunately, while it’s loads of fun to watch Bibi and Boehner cut their own nuts off, it’s all bad for Israel’s security, about which I care. Israel exists because the United States says it exists. That American support has been bi-partisan for a long time, and now it is substantially less bi-partisan. Once damage like that is done, it’s a very hard thing to put back together, because our support for Israel is essentially emotional. It is sentimental at its core. Sentiment, once contaminated by raw partisanship, is very hard to recapture.

    Israel’s security has been damaged by Bibi and Boehner, two reckless incompetents with two profoundly stupid constituencies in Likud and the GOP.

  23. James Pearce says:

    Unrelated to the post, but Doug, you need to see this:

    Larison and Mataconis should never travel in the same car or plane, because if something bad happens, then progressives will lose two solid intellectual sparring partners.

  24. James Pearce says:

    @Paul L.:

    Like his 6 year start of the 30+ years of that Democrats will control the Congress and White House and usher in the progressive era that will exceed the New Deal as predicted in 2008.

    No, like gay marriage… Alabama.

  25. C. Clavin says:

    @James Pearce:
    But Doug’s not a right-winger.

  26. James Pearce says:

    @C. Clavin: Well, let’s just say there’s a spectrum…..

    We all love him no matter what he is.

  27. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds:

    What was the purpose of the speech from Bibi’s point of view?

    To demand more wars in the Middle East.

  28. Eric Florack says:

    this place has officially gone round the bend.

    apparently, nobody here much cares that taxpayer dollars are going into funding Netanyahu’s opposition. In other words, this White House is busily inserting itself into the politics of a sovereign nation. I suppose that this shouldn’t be a surprise given that the Clinton administration was doing precisely the same thing.

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

  30. jukeboxgrad says:

    taxpayer dollars are going into funding Netanyahu’s opposition


    Right-Wing Smear Baselessly Links Obama Admin to Anti-Netanyahu Campaign

  31. michael reynolds says:

    Thanks for the link. This of course is the predictable result of Netanyahu climbing into bed with, and mortgaging his country’s future to, right wing morons, including people like Florack who’d be happy wearing a swastika armband and yelling, “Juden raus.”

  32. musicman495 says:

    Netanyahu in his hubris has done more for U.S. Mid East policy than anyone else I can think of in the last 20 years. He has single handedly created a climate where U.S. policy makers (and the U.S. Jewish community and other U.S. supporters of Israel) can finally unhitch U.S. national interests/foreign policy from Israeli national interests/foreign policy. (Yes, its true, they are not always the same.) The result is a discrediting of the Neocons like Krystal, Lieberman, Perlman, and others who have worked tirelessly for decades to make Americans think these interests are always synonymous. The results of their handiwork speak for themselves – endless settlements, endless occupation, endless war, endless violence, and Israeli politicians who treat America and her Presidents like dirt. No more. And if Netanyahu also manages to lose his election, that will be the icing on the cake.

  33. C. Clavin says:

    @Eric Florack:
    Florack accusing any one of going around the bend.
    That’s fvcking rich.
    Self-aware much?

  34. Paul L. says:

    @James Pearce:
    You might want to sit down: Obama apparently lied about ‘evolving’ on support for gay marriage

  35. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Paul L.: Squirrel!

  36. jewelbomb says:

    @Paul L.: A politician made a political calculation? Shocking! I’m sure this is completely unprecedented within the annals of American politics.

  37. James Pearce says:

    @Paul L.: You’re going to have to do better than that with me, Paul. I don’t consider moving to a more reasonable position to be an indicator of hypocrisy so much as it’s an indication of a nimble intellect.

    Indeed, sometimes I think the smartest thing a person can do is allow themselves to be persuaded, not all the time obviously, and not in every scenario. But rigid minds don’t think; they calcify.

    If you’d like to argue that the president’s “evolution” was wrong, you should do that. Because your argument now, if that’s what you could call it, is that Obama is a reasonable person. This is not the criticism you think it is.

  38. Mu says:

    I was told today not supporting Netanyahu’s speech is inviting mushroom clouds over Israel. The discussion went downhill fast from there.

  39. grumpy realist says:

    @musicman495: I’m one of those critters who wants us to get our hands out of the mideast as quickly as possible. I’m now of the same opinion as that of an Arab Christian friend of mine (whose family has mainly left the area for places like the U.S.): “Everyone in the Mideast is nuts.”

  40. jukeboxgrad says:

    rigid minds don’t think; they calcify

    Being able to change your mind is a sign that you have one, and that you’re actually using it.

  41. Tillman says:

    Sorry, I’ve just been laughing for a whole day.

    This was supposed to be televised?! The Republicans invited the prime minister of a foreign country to address a joint session of Congress to hear him berate the sitting executive of the nation on live nationally-broadcast television?!?

    Every story I heard about this over the past month, somehow I missed this excellent detail. I thought everyone had their knickers in a twist over essentially a Washington story. Who could have thought this was a good idea!?

  42. JohnMcC says:

    I keep hoping to see gentlemen of the persuasion typified by PM Netanyahu and Sen McCain come right out with it and make an honest presentation to the American electorate: We are at war in the Mideast; this war has always existed — at least since 1947 –and will continue indefinitely; we must now send thousands of young Americans to fight this war. We will know when the war is over because Israel will dominate the entire region exactly as they do at present in Gaza. Sign up today.Line forms on the right.

    Until then, they will constantly have embarrassing episodes like this as they attempt to convince us that they are merely concerned with ISIL or with Iran or whatever the outrageous outrage of the day might be. When in fact, they stand in front of their bathroom mirrors every morning and see a latter-day Winston Churchill.

    As the soldiers of the US 3d Army said of their commander (the jerk with the pearl-handled .45s), ‘our blood, his guts’.

  43. An Interested Party says:

    In other words, this White House is busily inserting itself into the politics of a sovereign nation.

    Oh, so they were following the lead of Netanyahu and Boehner…how horrible of this White House…

  44. CET says:

    Still, they never have regained their innocence in my eyes nor, I gather, in yours.

    Just so. I think it is fine to consider the Israeli government an ally (a ruthless and very tactically effective ally even). But I think it is very important to remember that there is often a great deal of conflict between their interests and our interests, and to have no illusions about the real quality of the relationship. Or about the ability of their government to see beyond whatever the most immediate threat is, for that matter.

  45. CET says:

    @Eric Florack:
    @michael reynolds:

    Ad hominem attacks aside (I think this site needs a modified version of Godwin’s law, which is only triggered when someone calls Florack or Jenos a Nazi…), I don’t really see that this is any worse than AIPAC blacklisting US politicians who don’t toe their line on Mid-East policy.