WASHINGTON — Capitol Hill was aflutter with activity Tuesday morning as Washington VIPs angled for entrance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the two houses of Congress. Members of Congress who supported the speech fired off tweets welcoming Netanyahu as A-list figures from House Speaker John Boehner to Republican and casino mogul (and Likud mega-donor) Sheldon Adelson met with the prime minister at Boehner’s pre-speech reception.
Welcoming Netanyahu and AIPAC activists alike, House Republican Conference chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Oregon) hosted a “Bibi, Bagels and Lox Reception” in her Cannon Building offices, complete with a live stream of the speech for guests unable to nab a much-coveted pass to attend in person.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) managed to find a way to stand out from the legislative crowd when he announced that he would be presenting the prime minister with a painting by his wife, Elizabeth. Entitled “Dome of Consequence,” the painting is a landscape portraying a black Capitol dome against an orange-red sunset. Roskam said his wife decided to create the painting when she heard of Netanyahu’s plans to address Congress for a third time.
Outside the echoing halls and crowded security checks, grassroots activists stood and waited to make their voice heard.
Around 90 minutes before Netanyahu was to begin his address, some 50 anti-Netanyahu protesters paraded in front of the Capitol building under heavy police escort. The entire complex was cordoned off to prevent demonstrators — pro or con — from coming close to the building in which Netanyahu was set to speak.
The protesters held aloft signs calling for an end to all US aid to Israel and stating that Netanyahu was a war criminal. Alternating between cries of “No sanctions on Iran” and “Free, free Palestine,” the demonstrators made their way down the sidewalk. Long lines of AIPAC activists waiting to enter congressional buildings for the organization’s annual lobbying day observed the protesters, silently.
A small group of pro-Israel demonstrators walked down the hill, toward the mall, looking for more Israeli flags.
“I came today to bear witness to the evil of Iran’s desire to destroy and conquer the world,” said Marc Pevar, who came to Washington from Wilmington, Delaware. Prevar said he supported Netanyahu’s speech.
“I’m very proud that he spoke up in the tone he did and wakes more people up to focus on the situation instead of on the pettiness of the personality in the White House. Its not about any individual personalities; it’s about the survival of the Western world against tyranny.”
Pevar and his companions found other pro-Netanyahu demonstrators in front of the Capitol, waving American and Israeli flags and — in the case of a group calling itself Bikers Against Jihad — Harley-Davidson jackets.
Some formed a prayer circle while others scanned the road as a handful of ultra-Orthodox men, members of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect, approached to protest the speech. Police kept the two camps apart as they brandished their dueling placards.
Projections of thousands of protesters during the lead-up to the speech were wildly unfounded, however. Washington calm prevailed under leaden skies, with most of the excitement — and action — behind the sturdy walls of the Capitol building.
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