The Controversy Around Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 Speech, Explained

Benjamin Netanyahu’s impending speech has shaken up U.S.-Israel relations – here’s what’s happening.

benjamin netanyahu speech

Although the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the middle of his re-election campaign, he still wants to travel all the way to Washington, D.C., on March 3 to address Congress while the United States and its five diplomatic partners – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – are negotiating with Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Why is it a problem?

Israel has always been a great ally of the U.S.; however, the longtime relationship was put to test after last summer when the Netanyahu launched a military operation against the Gaza Strip – an offensive that resulted in the deaths of more than 2,200 Palestinian men, women and children and five Israeli citizens.

The alliance went through even more trouble when Obama refused to meet the Israeli leader before the Knesset polls (on March 17) because the U.S. president didn’t want to appear as too interfering in internal Israeli politics.

However, Netanyahu – who clearly doesn’t mind appearing as too interfering in American politics – is adamant that despite Obama’s disapproval, he will address Congress to warn U.S. lawmakers about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Who else doesn’t want Netanyahu to come?

Besides Obama, there are many others who oppose Netanyahu’s visit.

Senate Democrats:

Senate Dems, of course, oppose the Israeli PM’s intention to demean Obama.

Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein, two senior Senate Democrats, invited Netanyahu for a closed-door meeting during his trip to Washington next week to reconsider his Congress speech – a request Bibi politely declined.

"Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit," Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Senators Durbin and Feinstein obtained by Reuters.

American Jews:

Although Netanyahu previously said that he is coming to Washington “not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people," many Jews across the U.S. have disapproved of Bibi’s attempt to become their religious representation.

Top Security Officials In Israel:

Netanyahu didn’t only snub Obama, he also kept his top national security advisor Mossad veteran Yossi Cohen in the dark about his plans to address Congress on Iran nuclear negotiations.

Apparently, quite a lot of Israeli officials are unhappy with Bibi as of now.

“In interviews with BuzzFeed News this week, four senior figures in Israel’s security establishment, ranging from military intelligence to the air force, expressed concern over damage being done to what have previously been close-knit ties in intelligence sharing and military strategy,” BuzzFeeed reported.

Recommended: American Jews Do Not Support Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress, Here’s Why

Then who supports him?

John Boehner:

It all started with him.

Despite Obama’s refusal to meet Bibi, House Speaker John Boehner went ahead and invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress.

Boehner was criticized – and rightly so – because his decision is a blatant breach of diplomatic protocol, not to mention incredibly demeaning to the president of the United States. However, he dismissed the widespread criticism, saying Congress has a “right” to hear from foreign leaders.

And the GOP on the whole:

Of course Bohner’s support means the GOP is all ears for Netanyahu’s address – especially when it gives them a chance to defy Obama.

In fact, Republicans have never been more skeptical of Obama. According to a newly released poll by Alex Theodoridis of the University of California at Merced, over half of Republicans believe Obama considers himself a Muslim – deep, deep down inside.

The Likud party:

(Of course!) Netanyahu’s own political party – the Likud party – supports the leader’s decision to defy Obama and impress voters at home.

The party released a statement on Saturday, calling on Israeli opposition parties “to stand behind Netanyahu and his plan” to address Congress in March:

"There are fundamental differences between … Netanyahu and the U.S. administration over the dangerous agreement taking shape with Iran and over the need and the necessity to continue the sanctions on Iran.”

Read More: The U.S. Commander-In-Chief Is Being Upstaged By A Foreign Leader

Who’s confused?


The American public – in general.

While a nationwide poll conducted on Feb. 17 found 63 percent of Americans saying Bibi’s speech is a bad idea without giving President Barack Obama a heads-up, another conducted on Feb. 18 found that 59 percent of Americans support it and only 23 percent oppose.


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is probably the most important lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies in the U.S. Therefore, it matters a lot what its stance on the controversial speech is.

The Times of Israel reported on Thursday that columnist Ben Caspit, one of the heads of the pro-Israel lobby said the AIPAC was “in shock” after Bibi revealed his Washington, D.C., plans, calling it the group’s “Day of Atonement” and “the lowest point we have ever reached.”

However, the lobby is still backing the speech. “We encourage all members of Congress to attend this important speech by the Israeli prime minister,” said AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann. In addition, an email obtained by BuzzFeed shows the group is actually “asking its members to urge members of Congress” to attend Netanyahu’s speech.

While it’s still not clear if Netanyahu will succeed to upstage the commander-in-chief of the United States, one thing is for sure: the Israeli leader certainly has not only divided the White House into two parts – not that it was difficult – he has also managed to sabotage the relationship between the two greatest political, diplomatic and military allies of all time.