Democratic lawmakers want to re-assess the special relationship between the US and Israel

  • Democrats of all stripes are calling for a dramatic reassessment of the US-Israel partnership following Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection.
  • Netanyahu has embraced far-right political parties and condoned annexing West Bank settlements.
  • Freshman Democrats, veteran Democratic senators, and 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have spoken out against Netanyahu in recent weeks – especially following his reelection.
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Since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected last week, a number of Democrats have called for a radical reassessment of the historic US-Israel partnership.

For the first time in decades, prominent politicians in Washington are calling for serious daylight between the US and Israel over concerns linked to Netanyahu’s recent marriage to the far-right in his country.

Unwavering support for Israel has been one of the few issues Republicans and Democrats have stood together on in a political climate characterised by hyper-partisanship. But Netanyahu’s policies and rhetoric are driving a wedge between them and cracks are emerging in the US government’s historically unbreakable relationship with Israel.

In the months leading up to Israel’s national elections, Netanyahu aligned his right-wing Likud party with the ultra-nationalist Jewish Power party, also known as Otzma Yehudit, which experts say is Israel’s version of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in an interview on Sunday said cutting military and economic aid to Israel is “on the table” following Netanyahu’s reelection. (Technically, the US has in recent decades given relatively little direct economic aid to Israel, which is mostly limited to humanitarian aid directed for Palestinians in the occupied territories.)

“I mean, I think it’s on the table. I think it’s certainly on the table and it’s something that can be discussed,” Ocasio-Cortez said, describing Netanyahu as “Trump-like” and part of “the ascent of authoritarianism across the world.”

In 2016, former President Barack Obama signed off on a $US38 billion military aid package to Israel, the largest such package in the history of US-Israel relations. What Ocasio-Cortez is discussing would be a major departure from US policy from even a few years ago.

In recent weeks, another freshman Democrat, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, has also been at the center of discussions on US-Israel relations.

Omar has been accused of employing anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of US policy toward Israel. She’s apologised, but also maintained that she never intended to “offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole” as she reaffirmed the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.” Omar pointed to the pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as a particular part of the problem.

During a Fox News town hall on Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, currently the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, defended Omar and rebuked Netanyahu.

“I’m Jewish. I lost my father’s family, devastated by Hitler, so this is an issue of some sensitivity to me. I will do everything in my power, and I hope every member of Congress will fight not only anti-Semitism, but racism and anti-Muslim activity so we create a nondiscriminatory society,” Sanders said. “But it is not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel. It is not anti-Semitic.”

In the days leading up to Israel’s national elections,Sanders said he hoped Netanyahu would not be reelected.

Other 2020 Democratic candidates echoed Sanders on this subject prior to Netanyahu’s reelection. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Netanyahu’s policy proposals would “make peace in the long term impossible,” slamming the Israeli prime minister as a “racist.”

More mainstream Democrats have also called for a reassessment of the US-Israel partnership.

“Netanyahu’s full-throated embrace of the far right’s extreme agenda has placed him on a dangerous track that is not in the interest of Israel, the Palestinians or the United States,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia said in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post.

Van Hollen and Connolly identified themselves as “longtime supporters of a strong US-Israel relationship” who are “deeply concerned about recent developments.”

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“Congress cannot afford to look the other way,” they went on to say, expressing particular concern over Netanyahu’s pledge to annex all West Bank settlements, which are regarded as illegal under international law.

They also appear to be concerned that a two-state solution to the decades of war between Israel and Palestine, which has long been the US government’s ultimate goal, will become an impossibility under Netanyahu’s leadership.

“Netanyahu has demonstrated increasing disregard for international law and human rights…sanctioning violence against Palestinians in the occupied territories,” Van Hollen and Connolly wrote.

Netanyahu has an extremely close relationship with President Donald Trump, which he sought to capitalise off of as he campaigned for reelection.

Trump aided this cause by recognising the Golan Heights – once a part of Syria but occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War – as officially part of Israel. Subsequently, Trump designated Iran’s elite military force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a terrorist organisation. Netanyahu said Trump did this at his request.

The White House maintained these moves had nothing to do with the election, however.

The president has also moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognising it as Israel’s capital, which also went against decades of US policy and the international community’s position. Netanyahu cheered Trump on in this move.

Meanwhile, Trump has cut humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and hasn’t made any objections to Netanyahu condoning the annexation of West Bank settlements.

Citing these developments, Van Hollen and Connolly called for passing legislation that provides for “the protection of the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians and opposing any actions that sabotage a future two-state solution.”

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