Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set for a fifth term in office after the country’s elections on Tuesday, potentially cementing his right-wing nationalist leadership for years to come.
Netanyahu’s apparent win is also set to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election campaign, as he is a staunch ally of President Donald Trump and fond of getting involved in American partisan politics. Whoever wins the next U.S. election will have to forge a relationship with the Israeli prime minister.
There is also increasing willingness from some Democrats to criticize Netanyahu’s government, with top candidates openly denouncing the Israeli prime minister’s deals with the far-right, his alleged corruption and his anti-Palestinian policies.
Here is a look at what the top 2020 Democratic candidates have recently said about Netanyahu.
Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, weighed in after Israel’s attorney general announced he would indict Netanyahu on criminal charges earlier this year. The senator heavily criticized the Israeli prime minister both for striking a deal with racist, far-right parties in exchange for their support and his alleged corruption.
“First embracing right-wing extremism. Now manipulating a free press, accepting bribes, and trading government favors,” Warren said in a tweet. “The allegations against Prime Minister Netanyahu are serious and cut to the heart of a functioning democracy.”
Beto O’ Rourke
O’Rourke gave a lengthy denunciation of Netanyahu at a campaign event in Iowa on Sunday, calling the Israeli prime minister a “racist” after he vowed to annex parts of the West Bank, a drastic move that would break with longstanding peace agreements with Palestinians and is fundamentally at odds with the idea of a two-state solution.
“This is somebody who, in a previous election, warned Arabs were coming to the polls. It’s racism,” said O’Rourke, a Texan who formerly served as a Democratic member of the House.
“The U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet, and that relationship, if it is successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist,” he added.
Vermont Independent Sen. Sanders criticized Netanyahu’s vow to annex parts of the West Bank, telling NBC News on Monday that whenever election time comes around, Netanyahu “always tries going even further to the right by appealing to racism within Israel.”
“I’m not a great fan of his, and, frankly, I hope he loses his election,” Sanders added.
Sanders has a long track record of condemning Netanyahu’s right-wing policies while emphasizing that his criticism is not levied at Israel as a whole. During the 2016 campaign, Sanders broke with much of the Democratic party consensus in offering strong criticism of Netanyahu’s 2014 military offensive in Gaza and adding that “we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”
Sanders also defended Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from allegations of anti-Semitism after she made comments criticizing groups lobbying for Israel in the U.S., saying “we must not … equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, condemned Netanyahu’s vow to annex parts of the West Bank as well, tweeting “Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu‘s politics. I don’t.”
Klobuchar condemned Netanyahu’s divisive pact with racist, far-right parties that he made in February of this year as a means of consolidating support ahead of the election.
“This is wrong and has been rightly condemned,” the Minnesota Democratic senator said, before citing the American Jewish Committee’s statement on the agreement.
Castro, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration, on Monday criticized Trump’s apparently unconditional support for Netanyahu as a reason why the Israeli prime minister felt emboldened to announce his West Bank annexation plan.
“In abandoning our position as a good faith partner in the Middle East peace process, the Trump admin has enabled reckless actions like this from Netanyahu,” Castro tweeted.
Gillibrand has not spoken out publicly about Netanyahu since declaring her candidacy. But during a 2017 town hall event in the Bronx, the Democratic senator from New York told a crowd that she doubted Netanyahu had the intention of delivering a peace agreement with Palestinians.
“I am concerned that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not have a plan for peace and doesn’t have a vision for peace,” Gillibrand said.
Biden did not publicly comment on Netanyahu or the Israeli election during the campaign, but the two politicians have a long history from Biden’s time as vice president under President Barack Obama.
Obama had a notoriously contentious relationship with Netanyahu, and Biden often shared in that animosity. He expressed in 2016 that he had an “overwhelming frustration with Netanyahu.”
At other times Biden painted a rosier picture of his relationship with Netanyahu, saying in 2014 that he was good friends with the Israeli prime minister despite their political differences.
Booker, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, has also not publicly spoken out about Netanyahu or his policies during the campaign. But The Intercept reported that during a closed-door meeting with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group’s activists in March, Booker claimed he had tried to prevent Democrats from boycotting the prime minister’s 2016 speech to Congress in which Netanyahu railed against the Iran nuclear deal.
He met with the prime minister along with other lawmakers on a trip to Israel in 2016.
Sen. Kamala Harris
California Democratic Sen. Harris has refrained from making the same public criticisms of Netanyahu that some other Democratic candidates have made. She did, however, meet with the prime minister last year while on a tour of Israel.
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