Netanyahu attacks Schumer and dramatizes partisan divide over Israel

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel attacked Sen. Chuck Schumer on Wednesday in a closed-door speech to Senate Republicans, days after the Democratic majority leader called him an impediment to Middle East peace and called for a new choice to replace him after the war. he calms down.

Netanyahu’s virtual appearance before Republicans, and Schumer’s refusal to allow him to deliver a similar speech before Senate Democrats, dramatized the growing partisan divide on Capitol Hill. and in American politics about Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership and Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

At the meeting, Netanyahu called Schumer’s speech last week on the Senate floor “completely inappropriate and outrageous,” according to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who attended. And many Republican senators spoke up and said they agreed with him.

“He was not happy,” Hawley said of the prime minister. “He made it very clear.”

In an explosive speech last week, Schumer named Netanyahu along with Hamas as one of the main impediments to peace, and tried to make the case that Americans can love and support Israel and still be deeply critical of Netanyahu and their far-right governments.

President Biden called it a “good speech,” and some Democrats applauded Schumer for speaking at a time when Israel’s offensive against Hamas has led to tens of thousands of deaths in Gaza, including civilians. But conservative Jewish groups and Republicans were stunned and dismayed, and accused Schumer of crossing a dangerous line.

Former President Donald J. Trump went even further, saying in an interview that Jews who vote Democratic “I hate Israel” and its religion. It was an extreme version of a tactic many elected Republicans have long tried, portraying Democrats who question Netanyahu or his policies as whistleblowers of Israel itself and even anti-Semites.

His appearance at Wednesday’s closed-door Republican caucus was not the first time Netanyahu has engaged in a bitter partisan fight over support for Israel, allying himself with Republicans eager to show their support for the Jewish state. In 2015, the prime minister accepted an invitation from House Republicans present their case to Congress against the Iran nuclear deal, without consulting the White House, which was then in the midst of negotiating the agreement.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu told Republicans on Capitol Hill that his policies reflect the consensus of Israelis and that Schumer’s comments would not influence how he planned to move forward with his offensive.

“He made it very clear that he intends to pursue the war against Hamas with the full extent of his power, and he said the American people are behind him,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana. “He said that even if we have to go alone, we will not stop.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, said he had conveyed to Netanyahu that he believed Schumer had crossed a line by “giving a democratic ally advice on when to hold an election or what kind of military campaign they should conduct.” . be driving.”

“It seems to me that bipartisan support for Israel seems to be breaking down,” McConnell said, making clear that he thought Democrats were responsible.

In his speech, Schumer accused Netanyahu of pursuing policies that undermine Israel’s own democratic values ​​and jeopardize the possibility of a two-state solution in the future. He has accused Republicans of politicizing support for Israelwho in the past was always bipartisan and blamed Netanyahu for catering only to Republicans.

At the meeting, Netanyahu asked Republicans to continue their vocal support for Israel and allow it to end the war, according to several attendees.

“He emphasized several times that Israel is not asking for American ground troops, it is not asking the United States to fight its war,” Hawley said. Netanyahu called for financial help to “finish the job” and urged senators to support any bill the House sent them that included billions of dollars in aid for Israel.

Hawley said Republicans directly asked Netanyahu for figures on the civilian death toll in Gaza. “He was very aware of it, he talked about it at some length,” Hawley said, noting that Netanyahu assured them that the Israelis were making every effort to minimize civilian casualties. He said he estimated the death toll was about 28,000, about 2,000 fewer than the Gaza Health Ministry had said.

Israeli officials had asked if Netanyahu could also address Democrats during their weekly closed-door lunch, but Schumer rejected the request because he said he did not believe it was appropriate for a foreign leader to address American elected officials all at once. party forum.

“Senator Schumer made it clear that he does not believe these discussions should be conducted in a partisan manner,” a spokesperson said. “That doesn’t help Israel.”

Schumer on Wednesday defended his speech amid an avalanche of accusations that he was interfering in the democratic process of a close ally.

“I gave the speech out of true love for Israel,” he said. “If you read the speech, we only asked for elections to be held after hostilities had subsided, after Hamas was defeated.”

Republicans made clear that they planned to continue criticizing him for his speech and blame Democrats for the growing partisan divide over support for Israel.

“Schumer has no reason to like or dislike Benjamin Netanyahu on a personal level,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “Schumer’s attack was directed at the people of Israel, because it is the people of Israel who went and voted. “Chuck Schumer had the arrogance and audacity to try to instruct another nation as if it were a vassal state, a banana republic.”

Robert Jimison contributed reports.

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