A hoarse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told thousands of Jewish community representatives at the Washington Hilton Tuesday that disagreements over issues as divisive as the recent nuclear deal with Iran should not undermine either communal unity or the Israeli-American alliance.
“Maintaining the unity of our people is of paramount importance,” Netanyahu said at the closing plenary of the 2015 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. “There is only one Jewish people, there is only one Jewish state … and now more than ever we must work together to secure the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu acknowledged that passions were higher this year due to the deal, which he had urged Congress to scuttle, but reiterated that Israel has no better friend than the United States and vice versa — a line for which he received a standing ovation.
Netanyahu had met the day before with President Barack Obama and said he was grateful for the United States’ financial support of Israel’s military needs.
“We have to pay for defense and defense is very, very expensive,” he said. “In fact, it gets more and more expensive all the time.”
The prime minister also spoke out against anti-Semitism and said the Jewish state cannot be held to a “triple standard.”
“Today we have a voice and we must ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear,” he said. “We must speak out against the slander of the Jewish people and against the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu said he remains committed to a vision of two states for two peoples with a demilitarized Palestinian state.
“When we meet a leader who is able to finally to recognize Israel as a Jewish state we will have peace,” he said.
Netanyahu’s speech came one day after Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog addressed the G.A. Herzog had met with Secretary of State John Kerry Monday morning and called him a “great, great friend of Israel.”
“I told him that we commend and express great gratitude to him and to the president for their indelible support of the state of Israel and their contribution to Israel’s safety and wellbeing,” said Herzog.
Herzog referred to American historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr, Louis Brandeis and Betty Friedan as leaders he feels have been important in influencing the nature of U.S.-Israel relations. He also praised Aung Sang Suu Kyi for her democratic leadership in Myanmar after facing difficult odds under house arrest for 21 years.
“I think it’s only a symbol, a symbol for us here as Jews, to wish well to another wish well to another nation seeing democracy shine again out of the darkness of dictatorship,” he said.