Sen. Feinstein pans Netanyahu over claim to speak for all Jews

Jewish lawmaker calls statement by prime minister ‘arrogant’ but says she still plans to attend controversial speech

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

File: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
File: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

California Senator Dianne Feinstein lashed out at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his “arrogant” claim to speak for all Jews Sunday, two days before he is scheduled to deliver a controversial speech to the US Congress.

Feinstein, who is a Jewish Democrat, said she planned to attend Netanyahu’s speech on Iran’s nuclear program, but thought the prime minister was wrong to discount the existence opposing viewpoints in the Jewish community, calling his speech a “political move,” and “not helpful.”

“I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community, there are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly,” she told CNN’s State of the Union. “I think Israel is a nation that needs to be protected, that needs to stand free, that hopefully can work constructively with Palestinians to have a side-by-side state and to put an end to the bitterness that has plagued this whole area.”

She said Netanyahu did not speak for her on this issue.

Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech aims to drum up last-minute support to halt a possible world deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

On February 8, Netanyahu defended the speech and said he would go anywhere to speak as the representative of world Jewry.

“I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, referring to an appearance in the French capital in the wake of a series of terror attacks in January. “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us. Those who want to kill us are, first and foremost, any Iranian regime that says outright it plans to destroy us. I will not hesitate to say what’s needed to warn against this danger, and prevent it.”

Netanyahu landed in Washington Sunday afternoon, and did not speak to reporters on the flight, according to Army Radio, which reported the prime minister spent the time working on his speech.

The planned speech to Congress has infuriated the White House and prominent Democrats because the speech was set up by congressional Republicans without consulting with the president, violating usual protocol.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published Sunday found some 48 percent of American voters thought Obama should have been consulted.

Some 30 percent said they believed the invitation proffered by House Speaker John Boehner was appropriate and another 22 percent said they did not know.

The poll also found that 66 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans said that Obama should have been notified about the invitation.

Before leaving for Washington, where he will also speak at the AIPAC policy conference on Monday, Netanyahu indicated he would not back down from his appearance under the capitol rotunda.

“I’m going to Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission,” he told reporters on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv shortly before his plane took off Sunday. “I feel deep and sincere concern for the security of Israel’s citizens and for the fate of the state and of all our people. I will do everything in my power to ensure our future.”

Netanyahu will meet with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders after the speech, but will not sit down with administration officials, who cited the proximity of the visit to Israeli elections on March 17.

Several Democratic lawmakers have indicated they will skip the speech, including a number of Jewish representatives, such as Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, and representatives Steve Cohen (Tennessee) and Jan Schakowsky (Illinois).

JTA and AFP contributed to this report

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