Despite denials that his speech to Congress was a bid to boost his party in national elections in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party released a campaign ad showing him being applauded by congressmen.
The 80-second ad, released Thursday, comes as polls show Netanyahu and his Likud trailing the opposition Zionist Union by between three and four seats in Israel’s Knesset following the elections.
The ad shows Netanyahu speaking in the House Chamber and presents at least one of his standing ovations from members of the US House of Representatives and US Senate. It juxtaposes scenes of Netanyahu speaking to the Knesset, panning the empty seats of his opposition, to scenes of what appear to be a full House chamber and wild applause.
At least 60 congressmen boycotted the speech, citing, among other reasons, its taking place March 3, exactly two weeks before the Israeli elections. Netanyahu and his defenders said the preeminent reason for the speech was the urgency opposing Iran nuclear talks backed by US President Barack Obama. The deadline for an outline of an agreement in the talks is March 24.
Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen (Tennessee) criticized the use of the footage on Thursday night.
“Based on his already having used a speech before Congress as political campaign ad material, I predicted that Prime Minister Netanyahu would use this speech before Congress for political purposes,” Cohen said in a statement. “I had hoped this prediction might have had a chilling effect and caused the prime minister to reconsider before using Congress as a campaign backdrop. Instead, my fears have been realized.
“The use of congressional proceedings in campaign ads is prohibited for members of Congress. And Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predictable use of this footage is one of several reasons I did not attend his speech. I am saddened that Congress is once again being turned into theater and that the prime minister made our Capitol into a studio for his political ads, complete with teleprompters and a live studio audience.”
Netanyahu spoke at the invitation of the House Speaker John Boehner, who — in a breach of protocol — did not consult with the White House, congressional Democrats or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. No Obama administration officials attended the speech, and Vice President Joe Biden, who conventionally co-chairs such events with the House speaker, was out of the country.
Obama declined to meet with Netanyahu while he was in Washington, also citing the proximity of Israel’s national elections.