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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu delivers divisive speech to US Congress

Speech right before Israeli election, Republicans fail to inform Obama of invitation causing controversy

On Tuesday, March 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress regarding a diplomatic deal between the Obama administration and the current Iranian administration to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

As soon as Netanyahu took to the podium, he immediately apologized for any controversy that was caused and said that, “that was never [his] intention.”

Netanyahu’s speech praised the continued bipartisan US support for Israel, stressed the danger of the current Iranian regime, and urged the world to “stand together” to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.

The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio, invited the Prime Minister without notifying the White House. This move has been a source of contention and controversy.

Many Democratic politicians and political commentators dismissed the speech as political theatrics. They claimed that the speech was used by Netanyahu in an attempt to gain voters in Israel and by Congressional Republicans to insult the Obama administration. Representative John Lewis from Georgia tweeted, “The floor of the House shouldn’t be used as a tool to re-elect a foreign leader.”

Due to the controversy surrounding the speech, President Obama and Vice President Biden, as well as over 50 members of Congress, did not attend the speech. Some members spoke out against the speech.

Representative Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, tweeted, “Iran will always be America’s enemy? … not what many Iranians feel or want … or what America has to accept.”

Iran is currently in the stages of developing a comprehensive nuclear program, which it stated is a “completely peaceful” program. However, many worry that Iran could and would use its nuclear program in order to develop nuclear weapons.

This concerns some countries, such as Israel, due to Iran’s previous calls for the destruction of the state. In 2014, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that the “barbaric” state of Israel “has no cure but to be annihilated.”

The Obama administration is currently working on a diplomatic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions, with the Iranian government aiming to remove some of the current sanctions placed on it by the West. The sanctions have been placed in response to the development of the nuclear program and have been hurting Iran’s economy.

Most Republicans and some Israelis, such as Netanyahu, oppose the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts. The general thought is that any nuclear deal with Iran would ultimately not be doing enough to halt Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

These opponents believe that a nuclear Iran would constitute an existential threat to Israel. They have argued that instead of any diplomatic efforts with Iran, the US should impose even harsher sanctions on Iran, which they believe would cripple Iran’s very ability to produce a nuclear program.

Netanyahu’s demands to end the diplomatic deal with Iran have generally gone unheeded. President Obama dismissed Netanyahu’s speech when he said that the Israeli leader did not offer any alternatives. The speech may play a role in his upcoming re-election on March 17, which ultimately determines the course of Israel’s foreign policy, as Netanyahu tends to be more conservative and aggressive than the other Israeli candidates.