Three leading Democratic candidates for the party’s presidential nod said this weekend, ahead of Israel’s elections, that criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not make you anti-Israel.
Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke all took shots at Netanyahu, who is in a tight contest with Benny Gentz, who leads the Blue and White Party, ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is a dark horse in the Democratic presidential stakes, chided Netanyahu for saying he would annex parts of the West Bank if he is reelected.
“This provocation is harmful to Israeli, Palestinian, and American interests,” Buttigieg said Saturday on Twitter, attaching a Haaretz news article reporting Netanyahu’s pledge, made in a TV interview.
“Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu’s politics,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t. This calls for a president willing to counsel our ally against abandoning a two-state solution.”
Buttigieg, who last year visited Israel with the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, has so far mounted a surprisingly effective campaign, raising $7 million in his first quarter and surpassing the 65,000 donor minimum to participate in the party’s presidential candidate debates.
On Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. who is leading the pools and who is in Iowa mounting his second bid to win the Democratic presidential nod, also said opposing Netanyahu did not make a candidate anti-Israel.
“I think that Benjamin Netanyahu is an extreme right-wing leader in Israel,” Sanders told Marc Daniels, a Jewish activist who tracks presidential campaigns. “I do not support his policies, and I think that to speak out against Netanyahu is not to be anti-Israel. And what I believe is that we, in fact, need a two-state solution to the Middle East ongoing crisis and that the United States needs to have an even-handed policy.”
O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman who has drawn substantial fund-raising, was also campaigning in Iowa when he told reporters he believed Netanyahu was racist for forming an alliance with a far-right party that has its roots in the teachings of Meir Kahane, the late racist rabbi.
“The U.S. Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships 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,” O’Rourke said.