AIPAC: We never opposed Netanyahu’s Congress speech

Pro-Israel lobby working to ensure lawmakers attend controversial address; soliciting reps to increase review of any final deal with Iran

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at AIPAC on March 4, 2014. (Screen capture: JLTV)
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at AIPAC on March 4, 2014. (Screen capture: JLTV)

WASHINGTON — The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) denied Friday that it had ever opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to a joint session of Congress scheduled for next week.

“Any suggestion that AIPAC opposed the prime minister’s address is categorically false,” AIPAC Spokesman Marshall Wittmann told the Times of Israel. “AIPAC has been on record from the very beginning when the address was announced saying that we welcome the prime minister’s speech to Congress and that we believe that this is an important address.”

Recently, reports surfaced that AIPAC was opposed to Netanyahu’s planned speech – an event that has sparked tensions over whether President Barack Obama was intentionally sidestepped when Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress.

Administration officials and a number of Democrats in Congress accused Netanyahu of destroying a bipartisan pro-Israel consensus through his decision to accept the invitation.

According to Wittmann, “AIPAC has been lobbying members of Congress and we have been encouraged that the overwhelming majority of members we have contacted have indicated that they will attend the joint meeting of Congress.”

AIPAC called on its membership to contact their representatives in order to relay the message that it was important to attend Netanyahu’s address after it became clear that a number of Democratic representatives were considering boycotting the speech.

Thus far, some 30 Democratic senators were believed to be planning not to attend the speech. A number of organizations including the National Iranian American Council have mobilized their membership to lobby representatives not to attend the speech.

Earlier this week, reports circulated that the Obama administration would punish Netanyahu for his insistence on the speech by refusing to send a senior administration official to AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which will begin on Sunday morning and conclude shortly before Netanyahu’s planned appearance in Congress. The reports were, however, dispelled when AIPAC announced Thursday that National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power would both attend the conference.

Netanyahu himself will also address conference attendees, one day before his speech to Congress. The day of his address to Congress coincides with AIPAC’s lobbying day, during which the 16,000 policy conference attendees are expected to visit Capitol Hill offices and lobby for Congress to consider the Nuclear Free Iran Act of 2015 — the very legislation that Netanyahu is also expected to support during his address.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), would threaten Iran with additional sanctions should negotiations fail to yield a comprehensive agreement on the fate of Tehran’s nuclear program. Obama has already promised a presidential veto should the legislation pass Congress, but its sponsors are attempting to cobble together a veto-proof supermajority as a counter.

The bill’s sponsors agreed during a showdown last month to hold back on advancing the legislation until March 24, giving the administration additional time to hammer out what it calls a political framework agreement between Iran and the P5+1 member states.

During their day on the Hill, AIPAC attendees are also expected to press more generally for plans to increase Congressional review of any final deal with Iran. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has indicated that he is preparing legislation that will propose exactly that, but he has yet to officially submit the bill.

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