The furor over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress shifted back to Israel on Tuesday as the Central Election Committee took up a petition to block broadcasting of it in Israel, claiming it would violate election laws, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On and Zionist Camp activist Eldad Yaniv contend that airing of the speech would flout the law prohibiting the broadcasting of campaign speeches within 60 days of an election. The speech is scheduled for March 3, the election for March 17.
Netanyahu’s lawyers, David and Shaul Shimron, characterized the petition as “puzzling, ridiculous and even cynical, because of the fact that it is clear to all that the initiative to make the speech came from the U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and not the prime minister.”
“Naturally, Netanyahu’s speech to the American Congress is such an important matter that has great news value and the public has a right to watch it,” the attorneys wrote.
Meanwhile, in Washington on Tuesday, the pre-emptive walkout on the speech continued, as another senator and a congressmen declared their intention not to attend.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate’s most senior member, denounced Netanyahu’s appearance as a “tawdry and high-handed stunt” arranged by House Republican leaders. Leahy, a 42-year veteran from Vermont, joined a half-dozen Democrats who have decided to boycott the speech.
“The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this joint meeting…[and] has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself,” Leahy said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum similarly dismissed the speech as “nothing more than a campaign event.”
The Minnesota Democrat said she finds it “very disturbing” that the Israeli leader will be allowed to address Congress “for the sole purpose of undermining a foreign policy priority shared by the Obama administration and our European allies to score political points at home.”
Later in the day, Netanyahu reiterated his determination to go through with it despite the criticism, insisting that is in the national interest and not a political matter.
“I’m going to the United States, not because I’m looking or asking for a confrontation with the president of the United States, but because I must fulfill my commitment to speak on an issue that threatens our existence,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks.
“I intend to speak in Congress, because Congress might have an important and influential role on the nuclear deal with Iran,” he said.