PM’s Iran speech to Congress left no bad blood, top Democrat says
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'We’re not here as Republicans and Democrats. We’re here as Americans who support Israel’s security, its sovereignty and the safety of its people'

PM’s Iran speech to Congress left no bad blood, top Democrat says

Steny Hoyer asserts unwavering support for Israel as 52-strong Congressional delegations from both sides of the aisle overlap in Jerusalem

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Over 50 US Congressmen from both sides of the aisle at a press conference in Jerusalem, August 8, 2017 /courtesy)
Over 50 US Congressmen from both sides of the aisle at a press conference in Jerusalem, August 8, 2017 /courtesy)

There are no bitter feelings left between the Democratic party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his controversial speech to the US Congress ahead of the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, a top Democratic Congressmen said Tuesday.

“All of us together support Israel and there is no residual impact [from Netanyahu’s speech], whether you were pleased or not pleased,” House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer told reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem.

On March 3, 2015, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress in which he slammed US-led efforts to sign an agreement that would temporarily curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, a move seen as a slap in the face to then-president Barack Obama.

The speech, which was made possible by the Republican speaker of the House John Boehner inviting the prime minister, drew a harsh reaction.

“Most visits are done in a bipartisan fashion, and this was not done in a bipartisan fashion. Democrats were not happy about that, and we said that,” Hoyer said at Tuesday’s press conference, held in the King David Hotel.

“This is not about Prime Minister Netanyahu or President Obama or President Trump. This is about a relationship between two great democracies, Israel and America. This is about a consensus that Israel’s security is critical for the security of the United States. This is not about personalities. This is about shared values. And our two countries are partners for peace and security.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands as he leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, after addressing a joint meeting of Congress. (Photo credit: AP/Andrew Harnik)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands as he leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington,, March 3, 2015, after addressing a joint meeting of Congress. (Photo credit: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Hoyer, who is currently leading a delegation of US congresspeople to Israel, said he attended Netanyahu’s speech at the time.

“I thought he spoke very well. I stood and clapped for things I supported, as others did,” he said. “ But the essence is not personalities. Democrats are very supportive of Israel and that is our focus and continues to be our focus.”

Hoyer harshly criticized the Iran deal but eventually voted in favor of it.

At Tuesday’s press conference, he was asked whether support for Israel can really still be called a bipartisan issue, given that Democratic Senators voted against the nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, and in light of the fact that three Democrats voted against a bill to cut American funding to the Palestinians if they do not cease paying terrorists and their families.

Hoyer replied by pointing to a recent law that imposes additional sanctions on Iran, noting that not a single Democrat opposed the bill. “The parties are very united, and the fact is that the parties are speaking with one voice,” he said.

Like in every parliament, there are differences of opinion between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, he said. But, the veteran legislator added, “when you have votes regarding Israel’s well-being and safety, they are overwhelmingly bipartisan.”

Currently on his 15th trip to Israel, Hoyer said he and Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is also currently leading a congressional delegation to Israel, agreed to spend some time together to signal that American support for the Jewish state is unwavering and entirely bipartisan.

The Democratic delegation, which arrived first, met with Netanyahu on Monday. He is slated to host the Republicans in his Jerusalem office on Wednesday. Both delegations are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with AIPAC.

“We have made a point to make sure we have an overlapping time here in Israel together, Republicans and Democrats. Because this is not a partisan issue. This is a bipartisan issue,” McCarthy said, stressing that the US has no stronger alliance than that with Israel.

“Some of us are Democrats and some of us are Republicans. But we’re not here as Republicans and Democrats. We’re here as Americans who support Israel’s security, its sovereignty and the safety of its people,” Hoyer said, standing in front of the 50-some congresspeople of the two delegations. “We’re here because the United States and Israel are partners for peace and partners for security.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meeting at his Jerusalem office with a 19-member delegation of Democratic members of Congress led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, August 7, 2017. (GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meeting at his Jerusalem office with a 19-member delegation of Democratic members of Congress led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, August 7, 2017. (GPO)

While congressional delegations usually are divided among party lines, this time they insisted on some “overlap” because leaders from both sides of the aisle felt the need “to send a message of solidarity with Israel and of solidarity with the people of Israel, a solidarity we know is necessary if we are to defeat those, not only in the Middle East about around the world, who [through] terrorism and violence put at risk our democracies and our way of life,” Hoyer said.

Most of the 52 congresspeople — 33 Republicans and 19 Democrats — currently in Israel are freshman lawmakers. They were briefed in Jerusalem and Ramallah and have been touring various sites across the country, including the borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and received a joint briefing about the Arrow missile defense system at the Palmachim Air Force base.

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