Stressing that he didn’t “necessarily agree” with the leader’s visit, Trenton’s first orthodox Jewish lawmaker nevertheless praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address in front of a joint session of Congress today, calling it a “powerful statement” on the the country’s role in deliberations over a nuclear-armed Iran and place in a politically-tense Middle East.
“I think it was exactly what we all thought it would be — a powerful statement concerning the very survival of the state of Israel and those who live there,” Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) told PolitickerNJ shortly after Netanyahu’s speech in Washington, D.C.
Delivered on the House floor this afternoon, Netanyahu’s address is causing a political stir among Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who find themselves split over ongoing U.S.-Iran negotiations to keep the country from continuing to build up its nuclear capabilities. President Barack Obama has demanded that Iran freeze sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years, while Republicans and other ardent supporters of Israel — a country considered particularly vulnerable in a politically and culturally-strained Middle East — have advocated for stronger sanctions and military action.
Netanyahu himself fueled controversy surrounding those talks today, siding largely with Republicans on the issue and calling Obama’s proposal a “very bad deal” during his 30-min speech. Republicans’ plans to invite Netanyahu to Washington without consulting the White House had Democrats incensed even before the prime minister’s visit, with many members of the party — including members of New Jersey’s own delegation, such as U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12) and Donald Payne (D-10) — accusing the House GOP’s leaders of playing partisan politics.
Schaer, for his part, said there was “obviously tremendous controversy” surrounding the prime minister’s visit, and that he has “no doubt” the invitation was meant to irk Obama and other Democrats. But he added the reality of the situation goes beyond politics — that there is a “much larger issue than politics here right now, and that issue is the survival of the state of Israel.”
“The prime minister has as job, as President Obama and leaders of all countries do, and that is to protect the survival of their respective countries first and foremost,” he added. “And Netanyahu certainly laid out a detailed analysis of an existential threat to the very existence of the state of Israel, and whether one agrees or disagrees with him on so many issues, when faced with such a horrific possibility of Iran having nuclear weapons, his coming to the United States to address congress was certainly from his perspective necessary and desirable.”
An orthodox Jew from Passaic County, Schaer suggested that Israel is in a particularly difficult situation right now, and that strong action on behalf of both the country’s leaders and its U.S. allies should be taken to ensure its safety.
“We as Americans sometimes do not understand what it’s like to live five miles away or ten miles away or 30 miles away from neighbors who have sworn to destroy you, to eliminate you from the face of the earth,” he said. “The comments which have come out of Iranian leadership for decades now have included destroying Israel and eliminating the Jewish from the world. As a Jew, that is a very frightening statement.”
Still, while both Obama and Netanyahu’s respective approaches to Iranian nuclear talks could be justified given their own respective interests, he added that the latter’s visit today could risk complicating matters.
“I believe that President Obama is taking a position which he believes is in the best interest first and foremost to the United States, as he should, and certainly taking into consideration the free world, which he should as leader of the free world. The prime minister is looking at a situation which is for him a bit different,” he said.
“I don’t necessarily agree with the prime minister having done what he did, but I can certainly understand it nonetheless,” he added.