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Live (now closed)Latest: Pundits weigh in on Netanyahu speech

Netanyahu denounces ‘very bad’ deal; Obama unfazed; Iran calls him a liar

President says PM offered no ‘viable alternatives’ in Congress address; Pelosi ‘near tears’ over PM’s ‘condescension’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC (photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC (photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a strongly worded speech to Congress on Tuesday warning against an emerging Iranian nuclear deal. The speech drew a harsh response from US President Barack Obama, who said Netanyahu had offered no “viable alternatives” to a deal with Tehran.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Switzerland for a second day of negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry denounced Netanyahu for his “lie-spreading,” in his “repetitious” and “boring” address.

The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded.

Full list of lawmakers boycotting speech

The Hill publishes a full list of the lawmakers skipping the speech, those attending, and those on the fence.

To date, 57 Congress members — roughly 10% of the 535 voting members — are planning not to attend.

But while dozens of representatives plan to bail, the demand for tickets skyrockets overall.

Likud slips in polls

While Netanyahu is in Washington, his primary rival — the Zionist Union party — is increasingly beating out Likud in the polls.

A new Knesset Channel poll published Tuesday gives the Zionist Union a three-seat lead on Likud, 24 to 21.

Yesh Atid and the Joint (Arab) List tie with 13 seats; the Jewish Home party follows with 12; Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party gets eight; Shas and United Torah Judaism, seven apiece; Meretz, six; Yisrael Beytenu, five; and Eli Yishai’s splinter party from Shas, Yachad, wins four, just squeezing in past the electoral threshold.

Another poll published by Army Radio finds similar results with a slightly smaller edge for Zionist Union. In it, Zionist Union gets 24 seats and Likud gets 22. Yesh Atid, the Joint Arab List, and Jewish Home party snag 12 seats apiece. Kulanu receives eight seats, the same number as in the Knesset Channel poll, and Yisrael Beitenu ties with United Torah Judaism at seven seats each. Meretz and Shas both get six seats and Yachad, in this poll too, enters the Knesset as the smallest faction, with four seats.

Jonathan Beck

Obama has meeting during speech

While Netanyahu speaks, Obama will hold a secure conference call with European leaders on the crisis in Ukraine.

The White House says Obama will confer with leaders from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union on a conflict that has now claimed more than 6,000 lives.

The call is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and Netanyahu’s address is slated to begin at 11 a.m.

US President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office, July 25, 2014. (photo credit: Pete Souza/ White House)

US President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office, July 25, 2014. (photo credit: Pete Souza/ White House)

On Monday, the White House said Obama did not watch Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC, and would likely not watch Netanyahu’s Congress address in full.

AFP contributed

Democrats to respond to PM’s speech

A group of Democratic lawmakers boycotting Netanyahu’s congressional appearance plan on issuing a public response to the Israeli leader’s speech.

Representatives Steve Cohen and John Yarmuth will issue the response the controversial speech at 12:30 p.m.

The rebuttal will also be attended by Representatives David Price, Jan Schakowsky, Lloyd Doggett, Earl Blumenauer, Betty McCollum, Rep. Peter Welch and others.

Read the full report here.

Ya’alon indicates PM won’t reveal details of talks

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon indicates that Netanyahu won’t reveal any confidential information during his speech.

He tells Army Radio he knows the content of Netanyahu’s speech, and says he will only be able to watch part of it.

“I know what will happen there; I think the Americans can also anticipate what will happen there,” he says.

“And without revealing any new information” one can successfully convey that Iran is working toward a nuclear bomb, “and the bad deal” concerns us, he says.

He is asked directly by the interviewer whether Netanyahu will reveal new information about the talks.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/FLASH90)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/FLASH90)

“Listen, you can’t claim on the one hand that we aren’t partners, and don’t know anything [about the negotiations with Iran], and on the other hand to fear that we will reveal new information,” he replies, referencing the mixed messages from Washington.

“The prime minister is responsible. He knows what to reveal, what not to reveal. You don’t burn intelligence sources, etc.” he adds.

Ya’alon also addresses the Obama interview to Reuters, in which the president said Netanyahu “made some claims” about the interim deal, and was wrong.

“He certainly wasn’t wrong,” he says. “This bad deal is rooted in the interim deal, so to say that until now there is no bomb as a result of the interim deal…” he trails off. He says there are a lot of “manipulations” of the facts “in recent history” and in history in general, and concludes “the prime minister was not wrong.”

‘PM toned down speech for Democrats’

A report by the Walla news website, quoting sources close to the prime minister, says that Netanyahu was asked by several Democrats to refrain from any punchlines or “zingers” designed to draw standing ovations during the more controversial portions of his speech, since it would place the Democrats in an uncomfortable position.

The sources say Netanyahu revised his speech accordingly.

The disagreements on the nuclear program

Channel 2 outlines, in bullet point form, the various points of disagreement between the White House and Netanyahu on the Iranian nuclear program.

The White House maintains that:

a) Netanyahu hasn’t offered a viable alternative to the diplomatic initiative

b) Increasing sanctions will not prevent Iran from developing its nuclear program

c) Additional sanctions will lead to the collapse of the talks

d) “Nuclear breakout” would take 2-3 months

e) If the US is blamed for wrecking negotiations, the international coalition will dissolve

f) A military strike on Iran will only delay the program

US TV spotlights speech

US TV is devoting immense coverage to Netanyahu’s speech.

CNN has a clock onscreen counting down the minutes before the prime minister takes the podium, and has lined up hours of programming on the issue.

The current tagline at the bottom of the screen: “Obama will not be watching.”

Protests against Netanyahu’s speech

Members of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect hold rallies in Washington, DC, and Jerusalem against Netanyahu’s speech.

Representatives of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect demonstrate outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

Representatives of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect demonstrate outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

Representatives of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect rally outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

Representatives of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect rally outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

Photos of the Neturei Karta protests are broadcasted by Iranian media, the New York Times reports, under the caption: “People are shouting slogans in favor of Iran.”

Other general protests were held in DC.

A man demonstrates outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to address a joint meeting of Congress. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

A man demonstrates outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to address a joint meeting of Congress. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

But have no fear — US bikers have Israel’s back.

People demonstrate outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to address a joint meeting of Congress. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

People demonstrate outside the US Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to address a joint meeting of Congress. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/CHRIS KLEPONIS)

PM’s motorcade arrives

Netanyahu’s motorcade is now arriving on Capitol Hill.

Obama ex-aide says feelings are ‘raw’

Tom Donilon, Obama’s former national security adviser, tells CNN the fact that the president apparently isn’t even going to call Netanyahu during this trip shows “how raw” the feelings are.

Former US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon (photo credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Former US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon (photo credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On Twitter, congresspeople welcome PM

Representatives, senators take to Twitter to welcome Netanyahu to Washington.

Netanyahu’s Twitter account is retweeting the welcomes and thanking the lawmakers for their support.

Zarif says PM creating ‘tension and conflict’

In Switzerland, Iran’s foreign minister tells CNN that Netanyahu is trying to “create tension and conflict” and that “doesn’t help anybody.”

Netanyahu’s speech is the “top story” in Iran right now, too, CNN reports from Tehran. The speech won’t be broadcast live on Iranian TV, however.

Bennett says PM ‘absolutely correct’

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett tells CNN that Netanyahu has been “absolutely correct” that Iran is seeking the bomb, and if it is slowed on one route it makes progress on another.

Iran “has these delay and deceit tactics,” he says. “There’s no way they should be enriching any uranium.”

The failure to ensure there is no enrichment in the looming deal “is a failure of leadership,” says Bennett.

“This is one of those moments where, 100 years ago, people are going to ask, ‘What were they thinking?’ … but we can still stop this.”

Economy minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, February 8, 2015 (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Economy minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, February 8, 2015 (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Lawmakers gather in Congress

Lawmakers pile in ahead of Netanyahu’s speech, which will begin shortly. The congresspeople are socializing and exchanging hellos.

The hall appears to be full.

PM meeting with Boehner

The prime minister is now meeting with the House Speaker.

Sheldon Adelson, the ADL’s Abe Foxman (who was opposed to the address) and lawyer Alan Dershowitz spotted in the hall.

PM about to enter House chamber

Boehner opens session

House Speaker John Boehner opens the House session, as the congresspeople take their seats.

Prominent US Jewish leaders in visitors’ gallery

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder have taken seats in the visitors’ gallery in advance of Netanyahu’s address.

Sara Netanyahu is seated next to Wiesel in the gallery.

Some 50-60 lawmakers will not attend Netanyahu’s address, but Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) is among those already in the room awaiting the speech.

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

Netanyahu enters the chamber

Netanyahu enters the chamber, to huge applause.

Indyk on the PM’s speech

Martin Indyk, ex-Obama adviser, says: “I’ve never seen anything as sad as what we’re watching now.”

That dozens of Democrats are boycotting this speech shows that Israel has become a partisan issue, he says, and the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu “is toxic.”

Arguments over settlements and Iran at the fore, coming “to a peak here in a way that raises real concerns in my mind about how things are going to work out if the prime minister is reelected in two weeks’ time,” Indkyk says.

There’s such a breakdown of trust that it’s not clear how things will work out “if there’s a crisis.”

Netanyahu greets lawmakers

The enthusiastic applause goes on and on, with cheering and whooping in the background, as the prime minister walks down to the podium, greeting lawmakers on the way.

American lawmakers greet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he enters the House of Representatives to deliver a speech, Tuesday, March, 3, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube)

American lawmakers greet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he enters the House of Representatives to deliver a speech, Tuesday, March, 3, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube)

Netanyahu addresses Congress

A roar of applause as Netanyahu arrives at the podium, and prepares to speak.

Netanyahu begins by thanking Boehner, house leaders, including Democrat Harry Reid. Says it’s “good to see you back on your feet,” to much applause.

“I guess it’s true what they say, you can’t keep a good man down.”

Says he’s “deeply humbled” by opportunity, says he know the speech “has been the subject of much controversy.”

He says it was never meant to be political.

PM gets first standing ovation

PM hails bipartisan support

“I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel,” PM says to Congress.

He hails “remarkable alliance” which “has always been above politics, and must always remain above politics.”

US and Israel share “common destiny,” he says, and thanks US for support — from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

Shout-out to Obama receives applause.

He says some of Obama’s efforts are known, such as security cooperation and opposing resolutions at UN.

Some is less well known, he says, noting his request for aid in 2010 for Carmel forest fire.

PM lauds Obama’s help

Thanks him for missile defense systems as well.

“At each of those moment, I called the president, and he was there,” he says.

Some of president’s efforts for Israel may never be known to the public, he says, “but I know it and I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support.”

Applause.

PM thanks Congress

He thanks Congress for military aid, Iron Dome.

“Last summer millions of Israelis were protected by thousands of rockets,” because of this dome — Capitol Hill, he says.

“Thank you America. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel.”

PM on the Purim story

He says he has a “a profound obligation” because he feels the Iranian nuclear program could threaten the Jewish state.

Says Jews are an ancient people, and many have “tried to destroy the Jewish people.”

He references the story of Purim, and the story of Queen Esther.

“The plot was foiled, our people were saved.”

“Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian” leader to “destroy the Jewish people.”

The supreme leader in Iran “spews the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism” on the newest technology.

PM says Iran exports jihad

PM quotes Hezbollah leader, who says if all Jews gather in Israel, that will save the terror group the trouble of tracking them down.

He says Iran is not only a Jewish problem, like the Nazis were not only a threat to the Jews.

“The people of Iran are very talented people,” he says. But in 1979 they “were hijacked by religious zealots.”

The new regime sought to export jihad around the world, he says.

Iran’s founding document legislates pursuit of jihad, he says. And Iran is doing just that in Gaza, Golan Heights, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria.

Iran taking over Mideast, he warns

He mentions the Iranian drill on a mock American aircraft carrier.

“That’s just last week, while they’re having nuclear talks with the US,” he stresses.

Netanyahu goes through the history of Iran’s attacks on Americans, mentions AMIA bombing in Argentina, attempts to assassinate Saudi envoy.

“In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four capitals,” he says, and if left unchecked “more will surely follow.”

He says we must all stand together to stop Iran, he says to much applause.

Netanyahu says Iran ‘radical as ever’

He says that Rouhani’s government hangs gays and journalists, mentions its human rights violations.

“Iran’s regime is as radical as ever,” Netanyahu says.

He says this “shouldn’t be surprising” because ideology is rooted in militant Islam.

“The battle of Iran against ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend,” he says. They are “battling for the crown.”

He calls it a “deadly game of thrones.”

“So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Deal will ‘guarantee’ Iran gets weapon

PM: “We must always remember that the greatest danger facing” the world is a nuclear-armed Iran.

“To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle and lose the war,” he says.

“We can’t let that happen,” he stresses.

Applause.

“But that my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran.”

He says deal will “guarantee” it gets weapons.

Netanyahu says some terms of deal are now public record, “you can Google it.”

“We know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions,” he says: preserving its nuclear infrastructure which would allow it break-out capability.

“Not a single nuclear facility would be demolished,” and centrifuges will remain.

Says break-out time would be a year, by US assessment, shorter by Israeli assessments.

Netanyahu says inspectors “document violations, they don’t stop them,” and that’s a “problem.” He uses N. Korea as an example.

Iran “plays a very good game of hide and cheat” with inspectors.

Iran can’t be trusted, Netanyahu says

“Right now Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the US and Israel,” Netanyahu says.

“Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted,” he says.

The concession of letting it keep its infrastructure is dangerous, but second — the timeline and easing of sanctions- – is more dangerous.

In a decade, “a blink of an eye,” Iran could produce “many, many nuclear bombs.”

The Supreme Leader says this openly, saying he wants 190,000 centrifuges. With this, Iran could make an arsenal
“in a matter of weeks,” once it makes that decision.

Kerry confirmed this, he says.

“The foremost sponsor of terrorism could be weeks away” from a nuclear arsenal “and this with full international legitimacy,” he says.

‘Deal paves the path to the bomb’

Two concessions in the deal — vast program, and lifting restrictions in a decade —  “paves the path for Iran” to the weapon, rather than blocking it.

“I don’t believe Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after the deal,” he says.

If Iran is “gobbling up four countries” now, with sanctions, how many will it “devour” afterwards?

Netanyahu lays out demands for Iran

“Deal will change the region for the worse,” he says, and create a nuclear arms race and “nuclear tinderbox.”

He predicts with this deal “a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs” and a “nuclear nightmare.”

Netanyahu says “We can insist that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program not be lifted as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and the world.” Applause.

Before lifting sanctions, world should demand it stop attacks against regional countries, he says to applause.

Second, “stop supporting terrorism around the world.” More applause.

“And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.”

Huge applause.

Netanyahu says Iran must prove itself

The world should insist “Iran change its behavior” before “a deal expires.”

If it does, restrictions should be lifted. If not, so let the restrictions remain, he says.

“If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.

Applause.

Iran needs talks more than US, he says

“Nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure can’t get you very far,” he says.

He says the US should keep up pressure “on a very vulnerable regime,” particularly given oil prices.

If Iran walks from the negotiations, they’ll come back, “because they need the deal a lot more than you do.”

We’ve been told “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

“Well, this is a bad deal, it’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it,” he says.

Standing ovation.

Netanyahu calls for ‘better deal’

Netanyahu says alternative to bad deal is not war, “it’s a much better deal.”

Standing ovation.

A better deal would keep restrictions “until Iran’s aggression ends.”

“A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb,” he says.

A better deal that Israel may not love, “but with which we can live,” he says.

Netanyahu says world is “at a fateful crossroads,” between “a bad deal” which will “inevitably lead” to a nuclear-armed Iran. The second path would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

He quotes Robert Frost, saying the road less traveled will make all the difference in terms of peace.

Netanyahu says ‘Never Again’

“My friends, standing up to Iran is not easy,” he says, adding that confronting a dark “murderous” regime never is.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the US Congress at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2015. (photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the US Congress at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2015. (photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

He points to Elie Wiesel, and applause erupts in the room.

“Elie, your life and work, inspires us to give meaning to the words: Never Again.”

More applause.

“I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned,” he says. He says he will urge the world leaders to take note, but says he can guarantee days “when the Jews remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies — those days are over!”

Cheering and applause ensues.

Israel doesn’t stand alone, Netanyahu says

Netanyahu says Jews are no longer scattered and powerless, and IDF soldiers have “boundless courage.”

He says Jews can defend themselves, and more applause breaks out.

“This is why as prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing. Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”

More applause.

“But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel,” he says. More applause.

He says “the story of Israel” is the “story of the human spirit which refuses to succumb to the horrors of history.”

Netanyahu quotes Moses, concluding in Hebrew with a biblical quote, then in English: “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”

He wraps it up, saying “may God bless Israel, and may God bless the United States of America.”

Applause and cheering.

Netanyahu receives final standing ovation

PM receives 25 standing ovations

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, who is sitting in the chamber, counts 25 standing ovations overall for Netanyahu during his address.

Pundits have mixed reactions to speech

As the prime minister wraps up his address and walks out of the chamber, journalists on Twitter praise the delivery, if not necessarily the content.

Jewish senator calls for longer sunset clause

Former chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) complains that Netanyahu had dismissed the impending deal, without explicating what would happen if no deal was reached.

“You have to think what happens if there is no deal,” Feinstein explains. “Does Israel do this [attack Iran] and what is then expected of the United States? Do we create a major conflagration in the Middle East?”

Feinstein indicates that she – like Netanyahu – thought that the ten-year window for the deal was too short, and that a fifteen- or twenty-year window would be preferable.”

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

 In this Dec. 9, 2014 file photo, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (photo credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

In this Dec. 9, 2014 file photo, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (photo credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Obama aide says speech ‘broke no new ground’

Longtime Obama adviser and political consultant David Axelrod echoes initial anonymous comments by White House officials in asserting via Twitter that “speech broke no new ground nor offered realistic path short of war. But apocalyptic language and GOP cheerleading tailor-made for his base.”

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

Oren says speech could’ve been given at AIPAC

Former ambassador Michael Oren tells Channel 2: “Too bad he didn’t say this two weeks ago, too bad he didn’t say this at AIPAC.”

“It’s not clear to me what the purpose of this speech is,” he says.

Oren points to Netanyahu’s statement that Israel will defend itself, but that the US is behind it, and says pointedly that Netanyahu needs to reflect in his remarks that the White House is behind Israel as much as Congress is.

He says he would have called Obama to ask for a meeting after the speech, and to thank him for helping Israel.

Former ambassador to the US Michael Oren announces he's running for the Knesset with Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, December 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

Former ambassador to the US Michael Oren announces he’s running for the Knesset with Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, December 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

Oren says speech ‘powerful’ but not new

Speaking to Channel 2, Oren says the speech was “powerful” but Netanyahu “did not sound any new ideas” and could have driven his point home while speaking on “any of the American TV networks.”

MK Shelly Yachimovich, No. 3 on the Zionist Union list, says the speech was “carried out under severe warning from the White House, and while being aware of the damage he caused while preparing for the speech.” She nevertheless conceded that “most Israelis agreed with the content of the speech.”

“It is a shame the speech was made all through a tear in the relations with the US, through cynical use of the issue for domestic electioneering,” she says.

Yachimovich says Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog would make “exactly the same speech” but with the difference that the US president and the vice president would be in attendance.

Likud minister Gilad Erdan says Yachimovich is “delusional” in thinking that it would be possible to make such a speech with the US president in attendance as long as the US and Israel had substantive differences on the Iranian issue.

Jonathan Beck

National Jewish Democratic Council backs nuclear talks

The National Jewish Democratic Council reaffirms its support for the talks that Netanyahu maligned minutes earlier, but also thanks Netanyahu “for recognizing all that President Obama and his administration have done to ensure Israel’s safety and security.”

The organization recognizes in a statement issued shortly after Netanyahu’s speech that “while every member of the Democratic caucus faced a difficult decision regarding today’s address, we recognize that each one made the appropriate decision for themselves.” Some four dozen Democratic members did not attend the speech, including some Jewish representatives like Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

The Jewish Democratic organization reserved a blistering critique for House Speaker John Boehner, who they claimed “put members of Congress in this position by playing partisan politics with the US-Israel relationship.”

The statement pronounces the group’s opposition to the Nuclear Free Iran Act, a bill AIPAC grassroots lobbyists are pushing for Tuesday, and which is sponsored by prominent Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

J Street says speech wasn’t worth the cost

The J Street lobbying group releases a statement after the address:

The Israeli prime minister has insisted that despite the inappropriate timing of his address, the American people needed to hear what he has to say. But this speech was nothing new. The Obama administration agrees that a nuclear Iran would be unacceptable. The difference is that it is pursuing serious diplomacy to prevent that outcome, and Netanyahu has refused to offer credible solutions.

We’ve heard this speech before–a litany of tautologies that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal, what we need is a better deal.’ Prime Minister Netanyahu offered no serious alternatives today. Who can now say that this speech was worth the considerable cost to the US-Israel relationship?

America does stand with Israel. That’s why the administration is working for a deal that will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Full text of Netanyahu’s speech

Read the prime minister’s address in full (complete with breaks for applause), by clicking here.

Omissions in Netanyahu’s speech

Netanyahu’s speech had many of the anticipated elements — thanking the Obama administration, affirmation of ties, condemnation of Iran, and criticism of the deal.

Still, there were some glaring omissions as well.

First, Netanyahu’s props and gimmicks were notably absent, though cultural references — from Frost, Hemingway, “Game of Thrones” and the Bible — abounded.

Second, critics note that the prime minister did not offer an alternative plan to the current round of nuclear talks.

Third — no leaks of confidential information on the nuclear talks.

Rand Paul ‘pleased’ by speech

In a statement following Netanyahu’s address, Sen. Rand Paul says he is “pleased” by the prime minister’s remarks.

“Israel is and has always been America’s friend and ally. I was pleased to hear Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today, and join him in calling for peace and standing together for our mutual interests. It is important to work together to prevent a nuclear Iran, and the spread of Radical Islam,” he says.

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

Congressman Roskam hails ‘powerful’ speech

Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) hails “powerful” speech:

In a statement, he writes:

Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a powerful speech this morning focused on strengthening the eternal bonds between the United States and Israel. This will be a pivotal year in our common quest to fight Islamic extremists and prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. Negotiations with Tehran only continue to embolden the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and I wholeheartedly agree with the Prime Minister that any final agreement that leaves Iran a threshold nuclear power is a bad deal. A strong US-Israel relationship is a strategic necessity to ensure the security and safety of both nations, and I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in redoubling our commitment to this critical partnership.

Dome of Consequence painting by Elizabeth Roskam (photo credit: Courtesy)

Dome of Consequence painting by Elizabeth Roskam (photo credit: Courtesy)

Roskam says he gave a painting by his wife to Netanyahu, “which depicts the Capitol Dome enveloped in cascading sunlight.”

“This painting speaks to the unparalleled consequence of the decisions made in the U.S. Capitol, which affect not only the American people but our most trusted allies and partners,” says Congressman Roskam.

— Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil contributed

‘After the applause, Netanyahu is alone’ — Herzog

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, speaking in a town in the Gaza periphery, says some Israelis “understand that the country wants to be released from fear to a new hope.”

Herzog says he “does not think lightly of the Iranian threat” but he chose to be “here, not in Washington,” for the sake of the residents of Israel’s periphery.

Herzog concedes that the speech was a fine piece of oratory prowess, but laments that it “created a tear in the relations with the US,” and says it won’t stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“After the applause, Netanyahu is alone. Israel remains alienated. And the Iranian nuclear talks will continue,” he says.

“The fact that we have a large population which is hungry, wounded and sick” is the result of Netanyahu’s lack of responsibility, Herzog charges, adding that “I will take responsibility. I will be a leader who came to work for the people.”

The transmission of his speech is cut short on TV, with Channel 2 anchor Yonit Levi saying it was “blatant election propaganda.”

Leader of the Labor Party and Zionist Union list Isaac Herzog on February 8, 2015 (Photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Leader of the Labor Party and Zionist Union list Isaac Herzog on February 8, 2015 (Photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Jonathan Beck contributed

Pelosi ‘near tears’ during speech, slams PM

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says she was “near tears” during Netanyahu’s speech, and is frustrated by the prime minister for “insulting the intelligence” of the United States and for  his “condescension.”

She says that “as one who values the US-Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

She affirms the strength of the US-Israeli ties as “a deep and abiding friendship” and “unbreakable bonds,” and calls Israel “the greatest political achievement of the 20th century.”

“We have all said that a bad deal is worse than no deal, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is the bedrock of our foreign policy and national security,” she says. “As President Obama has said consistently, all options are on the table for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, December 5, 2014 (Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, December 5, 2014 (Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Pelosi attended the speech, but was notably cold and visibly disinterested, capping her indignation by standing up immediately to leave the room before Netanyahu made his way through the throngs of applauding legislators.

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil contributed

Iranian official says PM doesn’t ‘carry much weight’

An Iranian vice president dismisses Israel’s objections to nuclear talks, saying that Netanyahu did not have much influence.

“I don’t think (Netanyahu’s voice) carries much weight,” Massoumeh Ebtekar, who is vice president for environmental affairs, tells AFP during a visit to Paris.

“They are making their efforts to derail the deal but I think the more logical lobbies on both sides are looking forward to a solution.

“The current threats in the region — the radicalism, extremism, terrorism — this all calls for a resolution of the issue and a stronger role for Iran.”

Ebtekar says the main sticking point in the negotiations with world powers was the speed at which sweeping sanctions would be removed.

“It is and it has been from the beginning,” she says.

“These sanctions have been illegal, they are unjust. They are also adversely affecting not only our environment because they are impeding our access to new technologies to curb pollution, but also the global environment.”

AFP

US official vows to ‘confront’ Iran ‘aggressively’ regardless of possible deal

A State Department official says the United States will “confront aggressively” Iran’s bid to expand its influence across the Middle East even if a nuclear deal is reached.

“Regardless of what happens in the nuclear file, we will continue to confront aggressively Iranian expansion in the region and Iranian aggressiveness in the region,” the official says.

“You can’t read into the nuclear negotiation any kind of determination of where the US relationship with Iran may go in the future,” the senior State Department official tells reporters.

He says Washington was working closely with its majority-Sunni Muslim Gulf allies to help build up their security and capabilities to defend their interests.

“Obviously the Gulf states are watching the negotiations very carefully; they have a legitimate reason to want to understand better what it is we’re trying to achieve.”

But he stresses: “This is not going to change any of the other aspects of our approach to Iran.”

AFP

Iranian-US council says PM ‘dead wrong’

National Iranian American Council (NIAC) President Trita Parsi accuses Netanyahu of warmongering.

“Netanyahu was dead wrong on Iraq, and he is dead wrong on Iran,” Parsi asserts, citing a 2002 statement by Netanyahu to members of Congress regarding the potential benefits of declaring war on Iraq. “If Congress follows his lead and rejects a deal with Iran that peacefully prevents nuclear weapons, it could be an even greater foreign policy mistake than the Iraq invasion.”

Like others, Parsi criticizes Netanyahu for failing to offer “any realistic alternative” to the ongoing talks with Iran. “The reason is clear,” he continues. “There is no alternative to a peaceful, negotiated outcome with Iran.”

Parsi’s organization held a legislative action day on Monday during which activists contacted their representatives to encourage them not to attend the prime minister’s speech. According to NIAC, the organization deployed 65 teams in 26 states to lobby against attendance.

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

‘All rhetoric, no action’ — US official

An unnamed senior US official tells CNN the prime minister’s speech has “literally not one new idea; not one single concrete alternative; all rhetoric, no action.”

The official says Netanyahu offers “no concrete action plan.”

“Without a deal, Iran will certainly advance its program — installing advanced centrifuges, fueling its plutonium reactor and reducing or eliminating its breakout timeline. That would leave us with the choice of accepting a nuclear-threshold Iran or taking military action,” the official says.

“Where is the alternative? Simply demanding that Iran completely capitulate is not a plan, nor would any country support us in that position. The prime minister offered us no concrete action plan.”

ADL hails ‘passionate and determined address’

The Anti-Defamation League commends Netanyahu for his speech. Director Abraham Foxman, who had opposed the address after it was announced last month and urged the prime minister to cancel it, was in attendance at Congress.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, May 2009. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s passionate and determined address made clear to Members of Congress, the American people, and the international community that an agreement that leaves intact a path for Iran to achieve its ambitions for nuclear weapons is not sufficient,” a joint statement by Foxman and national chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher says.

“We recognize the good intentions of President Obama and his administration on this issue, and take seriously, while not necessarily agreeing with, their concerns about what the alternatives may be to reaching an agreement… We hope the speech and continued bilateral conversations and consultations will help bolster efforts to ensure that any deal reached fundamentally eliminates the danger posed by Iran to the region and to international security.”

PM offered no ‘viable alternatives,’ Obama says

President Obama says Netanyahu “didn’t offer any viable alternatives” to the current talks in his Iran speech to Congress, the Associated Press reports.

Yesterday, the White House said Obama would likely not watch the entire address.

US President Barack Obama addresses the General Session of the 2015 Democratic National Committee (DNC) Winter Meeting in Washington, DC, on February 20, 2015 (Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

US President Barack Obama addresses the General Session of the 2015 Democratic National Committee (DNC) Winter Meeting in Washington, DC, on February 20, 2015 (Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

Obama read transcript of address

Obama says he read a transcript of Netanyahu’s speech. He says “there was nothing new” in the speech.

The president says Netanyahu made almost the same speech when he warned against the interim deal reached with Iran. Obama says that deal has resulted in a freeze and rolling back of Iran’s nuclear program.

Obama says Netanyahu’s alternative to talks amounts to no deal at all. He says that would lead Iran to redouble efforts to build a nuclear bomb.

“We don’t yet have a deal. But if we are successful, this will be the best deal possible with Iran to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon,” he says.

Obama speaks in the Oval Office alongside Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

AP, AFP

Supreme leader in first tweets since speech

Iran’s Ali Khamenei posts his first tweets since the address, condemning US aid to Israel:

Khamenei hails Ramallah lynching

Continuing his Twitter spree, the Iranian Supreme Leader hails Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis, writing that the “Palestinians disgraced Israel w[ith] bare hands.”

He adds a date in the post — October 14, 2000 — a reference to the Ramallah lynching of two IDF soldiers.

Aziz Salha waving his bloody hands after the lynch of 2 IDF reservists in Ramallah in 2000 (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)

Aziz Salha waving his bloody hands after the lynch of 2 IDF reservists in Ramallah in 2000 (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman calls speech ‘historic’

US Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, terms Netanyahu’s speech “historic,” and says “Every Member on the House floor felt the Prime Minister’s passion and resolve to confront this challenge.”

He says Netanyahu “powerfully described in unmistakable terms the threat” of a nuclear Iran.

“For President Obama and his team, Iran is a problem to manage. For Prime Minister Netanyahu, it is a threat to his country’s existence,” Royce says in a statement.

“The Prime Minister underscored, bolded, and capitalized the tough questions. How will negotiators from the US and our partners respond? Deal or no deal, Congress will soon have its say on these negotiations,” he continues. “This is crunch time for the US and Israel regarding the Iranian and growing terrorist threat in the region. Today’s speech was historic. ”

Ed Royce, US Congressman (R-California, 1993-present) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Ed Royce, US Congressman (R-California, 1993-present) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Khamenei calls out ‘Zionist money and power’

In the latest of a series of anti-Israel Twitter statements by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the man who represents one of the final hurdles for Iranian approval of a nuclear deal wrote that “US officials are obliged to show consideration for Israel & cover up its crimes.”

Khamenei, who will need to approve together with the Iranian parliament any deal achieved with the P5+1 member states, added that “Zionists corporations’ money & power have troubled them [US officials].”

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

AIPAC hails ‘overwhelmingly bipartisan’ attendance

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) commends what it describes as “the overwhelmingly bipartisan attendance and positive response to Netanyahu’s address to the joint meeting of Congress.”

In a statement issued hours after the conclusion of the speech launched a hailstorm of responses around Washington, the organization writes that “the Prime Minister’s message to Congress and the American people is critical at a moment when there is a danger that an agreement will be reached that fails to dismantle Iran’s program such that it does not have a path to a nuclear weapon.”

Thousands of AIPAC members came to Capitol Hill Tuesday for a lobbying push that traditionally marks the conclusion of the group’s annual policy conference. As Netanyahu spoke, AIPAC supporters watched the address in Congressional offices and pushed for a series of legislative initiatives to toughen the US negotiating stance against Iran.

AIPAC echos its members’ talking points in the statement, declaring that “Congress must assert its historic foreign policy role, review any agreement, and object if a bad agreement is reached.” President Barack Obama has threatened to veto just such legislation. Netanyahu’s speech was originally believed to be part of a push to guarantee that any such bill would garner enough majority to override a certain presidential veto.

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

ToI’s David Horovitz on the speech

ToI’s David Horovitz writes in an op-ed that Netanyahu’s speech was “in essence a devastating assault on Obama.”

Horovitz writes: “He began, dutifully, with expressions of appreciation for the president, and for everything the president has done for Israel. But he continued, for the vast majority of his address, to explain the profound misjudgment of Iran — its ideology, its goals, and the immense danger it constitutes to Israel, the region, the United States, and the world — that lies at the heart of the ‘very bad deal” emerging from the US-led P5+1 negotiations. And thus, by extension, he was explaining the profound misjudgment of Iran at the core of Obama’s worldview and policies.”

Read the full op-ed here.

Rep. Dennis Ross backs Netanyahu on Iran

Rep. Dennis Ross (R – Lakeland) uses acerbic language to throw his support behind Netanyahu’s speech and concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. **

“President Obama must stop making concessions during the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran,” Ross warns. “Iran has the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East and is in the process of developing a longer range missile capable of reaching our homeland.”

“I stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I urge our president to do the same,” Ross says in a statement.

The legislator says that he met with Netanyahu only two weeks ago to discuss the threat posed by Tehran. “A nuclear armed Iran is a threat to America, Israel and the entire world,” he warns.

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

** Correction: This liveblog entry initially misidentified Rep. Ross as the veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross.

Iran denounces Netanyahu ‘lie-spreading’

Iran denounces Netanyahu’s speech as “lie-spreading.”

In a statement, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham condemns as “very repetitious and boring Netanyahu’s continuous lie-spreading about the goals and intentions behind Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”

AFP, Times of Israel staff

Photo of PM’s Churchill bust

A photo of Boehner’s gift to Netanyahu, a bust of Winston Churchill, is posted online by a PMO spokesman.

Netanyahu, in return, gives Boehner a copy of a scroll of the Purim story and a menorah.

Iranian-Israelis on Netanyahu’s speech

Writing for Buzzfeed, Sheera Frenkel reports from a Persian restaurant in Tel Aviv, where Iranian-Israelis are unfazed by the prime minister’s address.

“Most of the people I know aren’t watching the speech. Netanyahu, he’s been talking about Iran here for years, people are sick of it,” one man says. “We all want Iran to not have a nuclear bomb, that is obvious, but how much more can we hear about it?’”

Read the full report here.

Israelis gathered in cafes to watch speech

Netanyahu’s impassioned speech in the US Congress impresses many Israelis in Jerusalem but draws criticism from others who say he is interfering in American affairs.

Israelis crowded into cafes and shops in Jerusalem, watching the speech on TV screens and hanging on every word of their leader, who is running for a fourth term in the March 17 elections.

“Look at how much they respect him,” says David Elmaliakh, 50, as he watches congressmen repeatedly interrupt the prime minister’s speech with rapturous applause.

Elmaliakh says Netanyahu was right to ignore the torrent of criticism that emerged when Republican lawmakers invited him to address the congress and go ahead with the visit.

An Israeli man watches a television broadcast of  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the US Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, at a Likud party headquarters in the coastal city of Netanya, on March 3, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

An Israeli man watches a television broadcast of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the US Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, at a Likud party headquarters in the coastal city of Netanya, on March 3, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

“That’s the place where the whole world can hear us,” he says, as he sits in a downtown Jerusalem cafe where the speech was beamed on television.

Shoa Horowitz, a shopkeeper watching in Jerusalem, agrees with Netanyahu that there should be no nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“Netanyahu really cares, and knows what he’s talking about. It’s important he make the world understand the situation… All these negotiations are distorted,” he says.

Elmaliakh adds: “Iran is not to be trusted. We all know what Iran is,” without elaborating.

While many Israelis maintain Netanyahu was right to address Congress, others say his decision to do so would further damage an already tense relationship with the US administration.

“Obviously, this address is controversial among Israelis, because of its timing with the elections coming up,” says Boris Dolin, who also watched the speech at a Jerusalem cafe.

Avi Marziano agrees.

“To interfere in this manner in American politics seems needless and arrogant,” he says.

“Barack Obama is probably sitting at home now watching this. We will pay the price.”

AFP

Pundits weigh in on Netanyahu speech

Several hours after Netanyahu’s speech, the analyses of the long-awaited address gradually trickle in.

In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the speech was primarily directed at the Obama administration and Israeli voters.

“The speech had two targets, and neither one was Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader,” he writes. “The first set of targets consisted of President Obama, his secretary of state, John Kerry, and Kerry’s chief Iran negotiator, Wendy Sherman. Netanyahu called them all out, though not by name, for being hopelessly, haplessly naive in the face of evil… The second target was the conservative portion of the Israeli electorate, which has, like much of the rest of Israel, grown tired of Netanyahu.”

Overall, “Netanyahu may—may—have succeeded in putting Obama on the back foot,” Goldberg writes. “There’s a reasonable chance that this speech will be forgotten in a month. There’s also a reasonable chance that Netanyahu just made Obama’s mission harder.”

Over in New York Magazine, a more pugnacious Jonathan Chait slams Netanyahu for being a “man without a plan,” saying that throughout his address, the prime minister “did not make even the barest case for a better alternative” to the nuclear talks.

“Netanyahu’s lack of strategic coherence reflects a defiant, self-pitying strain of Jewish thought. (Leon Wieseltier dissected it brilliantly a dozen years ago.) It equates all strategic enemies of the Jewish people with each other, in a long, undifferentiated historical stream. They all share the same goal, the complete elimination of the Jewish people, from the Persian kings of the story of Purim through Hitler through whichever geopolitical enemy faces Israel at any given moment,” he writes.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman criticizes the speech for conflating various terror groups under one blanket category of militant Islam, and denounces Netanyahu’s foreign policy approach as “absurd.”

“This is the Republican foreign policy perspective, as much now as it ever was: there is only black and white, no complexity, no compromise, and all enemies are the same,” he writes.

Waldman takes issue with the prime minister’s suggestion that the US walk away from the talks, hoping Iran will capitulate.

“That’s his alternative: Do nothing, and instead of just going ahead and developing nuclear weapons, Iran will see the light and completely reverse everything it’s been doing. To call that position ‘absurd’ is too kind. You don’t have to be some kind of foreign policy whiz to grasp that there’s something weird about arguing that 1) Iran is a nation run by genocidal maniacs; 2) they want nuclear weapons so they can annihilate Israel; and 3) the best way to stop this is to abandon negotiations to limit their nuclear program and just wait to see what they do. But that’s the position Netanyahu and his supporters in the Republican Party are now committed to.”

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ADL hails ‘passionate and determined address’

The Anti-Defamation League commends Netanyahu for his speech. Director Abraham Foxman, who had opposed the address after it was announced last month and urged the prime minister to cancel it, was in attendance at Congress.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, May 2009. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s passionate and determined address made clear to Members of Congress, the American people, and the international community that an agreement that leaves intact a path for Iran to achieve its ambitions for nuclear weapons is not sufficient,” a joint statement by Foxman and national chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher says.

“We recognize the good intentions of President Obama and his administration on this issue, and take seriously, while not necessarily agreeing with, their concerns about what the alternatives may be to reaching an agreement… We hope the speech and continued bilateral conversations and consultations will help bolster efforts to ensure that any deal reached fundamentally eliminates the danger posed by Iran to the region and to international security.”