Rare Rebuke Of Israel By White House Riles Republicans
The political fallout continues after President Biden's controversial and rare criticisms of Israel, which included on Tuesday his urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon his governing coalition's judicial overhaul policy which critics say will destroy any semblance of checks and balances and thus is a threat to Israeli democracy itself. The plan is now on "pause" as deep divisions in Israel simmer.
Biden had said he hoped Netanyahu "walks away from" the plan which has brought hundreds of thousands of Israeli protesters into the streets over the last couple weeks. But he really riled Israel-supporters by emphasizing that he has no intention of welcoming Netanyahu to the White House "in the near term." Typically newly elected Israeli prime ministers can expect to meet with the US president fairly quickly after entering office.
"Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned, and I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road," Biden had told reporters after a speech in North Carolina. "Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen."
Again such a rebuke from an American president directed at close ally Israel, which receives over $3 billion a year in foreign and defense aid from Washington, is so rare as to be almost unheard of. But some argue that the funding and steady weapons pipeline to Tel Aviv is precisely why Washington must reign in Israel from time to time.
But pro-Israel hawks have historically treated the Jewish state like it cannot possibly do any wrong. Congressional Republicans were especially angry by Biden's criticisms, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday speaking up, issuing words of support for Netanyahu:
"Prime Minister Netanyahu is an Israeli patriot, statesman, and most importantly, a great friend of the United States of America," McCarthy said in a statement.
"Free societies have vigorous and open debate. Israel is no exception. I support Prime Minister Netanyahu, and America’s support for Israel’s strong, vibrant democracy is unwavering. Now is an important time for Americans to stand together in support of our long, mutually respectful, and important friendship with Israel."
Interestingly, some Republicans agree that the judicial overhaul plan shouldn't be pursued, but have expressed that Biden shouldn't criticize Israel so out in the open.
For example, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said Biden's words should have been conveyed through quiet back-channels: "The administration if they’re going to convey a message, it ought to be doing it through secure channels and not being so public about it," he said to The Hill on Wednesday.
New: President Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a strong private message to halt his government's judicial overhaul just hours before Netanyahu announced the suspension of the controversial plan. My story on @axios https://t.co/EUtzlFkYAj— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) March 29, 2023
"An ally like Israel that absolutely needs a friend like the United States as part of its deterrence, we want to, in no way convey, any, no matter who’s prime minister, diminution of support. Talk it out on a secure phone or in a meeting, don’t do it through the press," Smith added.