Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu rocked the house at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee mega-conference in Washington this morning, teasing his speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow to focus on his rift with the administration over “the best way to prevent Iran from developing those weapons.”
Netanyahu received a standing ovation from the crowd at the mere mention of his name by AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr, who introduced the prime minister.
And he received thunderous applause, cheers, and an extended standing ovation befitting a rock star when he finally took the stage before the packed crowd of 16,000.
“As prime minister of Israel I have a moral obligation to speak out about these dangers while there’s still time to avert them,” he said of Iran, which “envelops the entire world with its tentacles of terror.”
“The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us, those days are over,” Netanyahu said, garnering a massive ovation. “Tomorrow as prime minister of the one and only Jewish state I plan to use that voice.”
“Never has so much been written about a speech that hasn’t been given,” he quipped.
He thanked the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, as “a man who knows how to take the heat.”
Still, he said, “reports of the demise of the U.S.-Israeli relations are not only premature, they’re just wrong.”
“My address is not to show disrespect to President Obama or the office that he holds — I have great respect for both,” Netanyahu said, adding he’s been “deeply grateful” for Obama’s support for Israel.
The address also is “not intended to inject Israel into the partisan debate,” he added, noting the military assistance from Congress including the Iron Dome missile defense system. “Working together has made Israel stronger; working together has made our alliance stronger.”
“I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here,” he said. “Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”
The purpose of his visit, Netanyahu said, is “to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel.”
He framed the disagreement as matter of differing perspectives in the U.S. and Israel, where leaders in Washington worry about the security of its citizens while Israel worries about the survival of its citizens.
“America lives in one of the world’s safest neighborhoods; Israel lives in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood,” he said.
In his nine years as prime minister, Netanyahu stressed, “not a single day, not one day I didn’t think about the survival of my country and the actions that I take to ensure that, not one day.”
“And because of these differences, America and Israel have had some serious disagreements over the course of our nearly 70-year-old friendship,” he said, citing historical instances where Washington called out Israel beginning with David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of statehood.
“Despite occasional disagreements, the friendship between America and Israel grew stronger and stronger, decade after decade. And our friendship will weather the current disagreement, as well, to grow even stronger in the future.”
As the region “descends into medieval barbarism,” he said, Israel is “the one that upholds these values common to us and to you.”
“As Christians in the Middle East are beheaded and their ancient communities are decimated, Israel’s Christian community is growing and thriving, the only one such community in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said, drawing a loud standing ovation.
Of U.S.-Israel rifts: “Disagreements in the family are always uncomfortable, but we must always remember that we are family.”