JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was leaving on a “fateful, even historic, mission” as he boarded a plane for Washington, where he will deliver a controversial address before the U.S. Congress.
“I feel that I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me, of the entire Jewish People,” Netanyahu said Sunday morning at Ben Gurion Airport, two days before his speech warning about signing a nuclear deal with Iran. “I am deeply and genuinely concerned for the security of all Israelis, for the fate of the nation, and for the fate of our people, and I will do my utmost to ensure our future.”
Netanyahu was accompanied at the airport by his wife, Sara, and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer.
His speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress has sparked controversy over protocol issues. On the same day, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders.
Obama administration officials will not meet with Netanyahu while he is in Washington, citing the proximity of Israeli elections on March 17, and some 30 Democrats have said they won’t attend the speech. Vice President Joseph Biden will be traveling on the day of the speech as well.
Netanyahu, through Dermer, organized the speech to Congress with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House speaker, who did not consult with the White House or Democrats in issuing the invitation, which was made in the name of both parties.
On Monday, Netanyahu will deliver a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu visited the Western Wall, where he said he had “respect” for Obama.
“I believe in the strength of the relationship between Israel and the U.S. and in their strength to overcome differences of opinion, those that have been and those that will yet be,” Netanyahu said there.
He said the deal being negotiated with Iran “could endanger our very existence.”
“In the face of this danger,” Netanyahu said, “we must unite and also explain the dangers stemming from this agreement to Israel, to the region and to the world.”