columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Netanyahu returns ‘friendly’ fire

The Israeli prime minister’s equanimity has its limits in the face of potshots from Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a conference in Jerusalem, Feb.18, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a conference in Jerusalem, Feb.18, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s angry response to recent comments emanating from Washington is as welcome as it was long in coming. For obvious reasons relating to the need for American ammo—and stemming from his deference to his country’s most important ally—Bibi has been careful to keep all discourse from his end dignified.

Despite being subjected to repeated digs from Democrats over his “extremist” coalition and renewed calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has taken every opportunity to thank the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden for its support.

He has managed to keep his cool when admonished by “backers” about his execution of the war against Hamas. Rather than voicing outrage in the face of professed tough-love warnings over potential violations of international law, he has rebutted by describing the care taken by the Israel Defense Forces to avoid civilian casualties.  

He has countered accusations of causing famine in Gaza by pointing to the massive amounts of humanitarian goods entering the Strip and Israel’s efforts to prevent Hamas from stealing and selling it. He has also explained to those admonishing him not to enter Rafah why doing so is necessary, and promised that plans are underway to evacuate non-combatant residents from the area.

But even Bibi’s equanimity, no matter how tactical, has its limits. These were tested on Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose jaw-dropping chutzpah came on the heels of comparable gall spewed by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor, Schumer asserted that Netanyahu “has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel.”

He proceeded to cite Netanyahu as one of “four obstacles to peace,” the other three being “Hamas and the Palestinians who support and tolerate their evil ways; radical right-wing Israelis in government and society; and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”

He concluded his mendacious screed by determining that a new election should be held to replace the Netanyahu government “at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in [its] vision and direction.”

Biden, who called Schumer’s oration “a good speech,” bashed Bibi in an interview with MSNBC the previous weekend, stating: “What’s happening is [Netanyahu] has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas, but he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken. In my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel by making the rest of the world—it’s contrary to what Israel stands for.”

Harris was less specific a couple of days earlier, but her message was the same.

“It’s important for us to distinguish or at least not conflate the Israeli government with the Israeli people,” she told CBS News on March 8.

The pile-up of hostility was beyond the pale, so Netanyahu finally let loose—albeit in a far more diplomatic tone than was warranted under the circumstances.  

At the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, he retorted: “To our friends in the international community, I say, ‘Are your memories that short? Have you so quickly forgotten Oct. 7, the most horrific massacre of Jews since the Holocaust? Are you so quick to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the Hamas monsters? Have you so quickly lost your moral consciences?”

He went on: “Instead of pressuring Israel, which is fighting a war, the justice of which is unparalleled, against an enemy of unparalleled brutality, apply your pressure to Hamas and its patron, Iran. It is they who constitute a danger to the region and to the entire world. In any case, we will withstand any pressure and, with God’s help, we will continue to fight together until total victory.”

In a subsequent CNN interview, he referred to the words of Schumer—the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in America—as “totally inappropriate.”

It is “inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there,” he said. “That’s something that the Israeli public does on its own. We’re not a banana republic. I think the only government that we should be working on to bring down now is the terrorist tyranny in Gaza, the Hamas tyranny, that murdered over a thousand Israelis, including some dozens of Americans, and is holding Americans and Israelis hostage. That’s what we should be focused on.”

Contradicting Schumer’s false contentions, Netanyahu noted that most Israelis are in favor of his government’s policies. These include entering Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions; making sure that Gaza isn’t put into the hands of the Palestinian Authority that educates its children to commit terrorism and to annihilate Israel; and refusing to have a Palestinian state “rammed down [their] throats.”

Nor does the bulk of the Israeli public wish to go through an election while 134 innocent men, women and children remain in horrific Hamas captivity and with the Israel Defense Forces fighting on three fronts to protect the people and future of the Jewish state from the genocidal aims and concrete actions of Iran and its proxies.

This, too, is something that Netanyahu has reiterated. And he’s right, regardless of the “anybody-but-Bibi” camp’s assertions to the contrary. What Israelis want is to win this war and discourage the rest of the rapist barbarians in the region from attempting to emulate the atrocities of Oct. 7.

If this requires of Bibi that he stand up to Biden and his buddies, so be it.

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