Congress standing ovation to Netanyahu shatters Obama’s peace plan
WASHINGTON - Benjamin Netanyahu was warmly welcomed Tuesday at the US Capitol, where Republicans and Democrats alike applauded the Israeli premier at length as he addressed a rare joint session of Congress.
At 10:40 am (1440 GMT), the House of Representatives chamber began filling up, buzzing with conversation between hundreds of gathered lawmakers.
Sarah Netanyahu, the prime minister's wife, then made her appearance to thunderous applause, all smiles and wearing a bottlegreen suit.
Finally, at 11:20 am (1520 GMT), the Israeli leader entered the chamber a few minutes late. He was roundly applauded by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, in a standing ovation which bore testimony to Washington's long-standing history of staunch support for the Jewish state.
The prime minister greeted the legislators and the public before arriving at the podium, where he exchanged a lengthy handshake with US Vice President Joe Biden, who doubles as president of the Senate.
Then, the speech got underway before his "friends," lawmakers from both chambers of Congress.
"I do see a lot of old friends here, and I see a lot of new friends of Israel here as well -- Democrats and Republicans alike," he said.
Addressing legislators repeatedly as "my friends," he sprinkled his speech with jokes, seemingly well at ease as he sought to bury a controversy lingering from his public Oval Office lecture of US President Barack Obama last week.
Citing the partisan quarrels back home in the Knesset, the Israeli premier told his American audience: "You think you're tough on one another here in Congress? Come spend a day in the Knesset. Be my guest!"
In the chamber, the Levin brothers -- Carl, the influential senator, and Sander, the more subdued representative -- sat side by side, listening attentively. Sander took notes on a small piece of paper.
Another Democrat, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, sat in the first row. He rose like the others to greet Netanyahu.
Enthusiasm was also at an all-time high in the Republican camp. The conservatives, who enjoy a majority in the House and significant numbers in the Democratic-controlled Senate, cheered Netanyahu loud and clear as soon as he emerged.
In all, Netanyahu scored nearly 30 standing ovations from lawmakers of all stripes, close to those obtained by President Barack Obama himself in his State of the Union address.
Applause rang out even when the prime minister stayed firm in vowing the Jewish state would never return to pre-1967 borders, contradicting Obama's call for the borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state to be based on the lines that preceded the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with mutually agreed land swaps.
The Obama administration sent only two representatives to the speech after Biden: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and development. Sitting next to each other near the podium, the two men listened closely and applauded as well.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was traveling in Europe with Obama.
The only moment of discord, came shortly after the premier began his speech, when a woman in the public seating rose up and cried out "end the occupation."
"Stop the Israeli war crimes," yelled the woman, later identified by anti-war group CODEPINK as Rae Abileah, a 28-year-old Jewish American.
She tried to unfurl a red banner with white lettering about five meters (yards) from the prime minister's wife, but security personnel quickly pulled it down.
Abileah was then hustled out of the chamber to boos from lawmakers and the public, including a number of representatives of the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.
Netanyahu paused before continuing: "You know, I take it as a badge of honor... And so should you, that in our free societies you can now protest.
"You can't have these protests in the farcical parliaments in Tehran or in Tripoli. This is real democracy," he said to loud applause.