Senate Democrats are officially over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership.
While no senators outright called for him to resign, many pointed out significant problems with Netanyahu’s tenure Thursday, saying he’s mishandled the war against Hamas after the October terrorist attack. Their pointed comments, which include both lawmakers typically critical of Israeli governance and others normally more reserved, show how much Democratic faith in the long-time Israeli leader has eroded, even as President Joe Biden and the White House continue to tread carefully
“I’m looking forward to the time when he is no longer the leader,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat, said in an interview. “I don’t think his leadership is what’s needed right now.”
“Why do you think I ever had confidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu?” asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who unsuccessfully pushed for a human rights report on the Israel-Hamas war. “I think he has cobbled together the right-wing, extremist government to stay in power. And I think what he is doing in Gaza is inhumane.”
Senate Armed Forces Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) argued that Netanyahu’s tenure allowed Hamas to accumulate weapons and that his push for judicial reforms — and looming personal corruption issues — have impeded his ability to govern.
“He has so many personal issues involved, it complicates his leadership of the nation,” Reed said in a brief interview.
Other senators made clear that they wouldn’t wade into Israel’s domestic politics, even as they questioned Netanyahu’s handling of the ongoing conflict. The prime minister stirred up further ire last week after he publicly rejected a two-state solution, the longstanding U.S. policy in the region.
“Israel gets to pick its own prime minister,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). But “he’s made Israel dramatically less safe by ignoring the Palestine question and deflecting attention from it by doing everything he could, and bragging about delaying — and killing — the idea of a two-state solution.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said the focus shouldn’t be on Netanyahu but on the war effort itself.
“There’s a war. The war has an objective. We support that objective,” he said. “There are consequences of the war that we want to be engaged in: humanitarian needs and hostages, etc. … So that’s what we’re focusing on.”
On Wednesday, all but two members of the Senate Democratic conference backed an amendment from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) reiterating support for a two-state solution, a rebuke to Netanyahu’s recent comments.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who’s proposed an amendment to condition aid to Israel, argued the prime minister is putting his own political interests ahead of pursuing a durable peace.
“It’s clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu is placing his own personal political ambitions over the interests of Israel and the United States and other partners,” Van Hollen said in an interview. He added that the Israeli prime minister has “repeatedly rebuffed requests from the president of the United States” on measures such as reducing the number of civilian casualties, increased humanitarian assistance in Gaza and securing the release of hostages held by Hamas.
Added Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.): “He is eroding his credibility at an astonishing rate and increasingly seeming to appear as an obstacle to progress in the Middle East.”
Joe Gould contributed to this report.