WASHINGTON - Sen. Robert Menendez said Thursday that the United States must continue to be a "reliable and honest friend to Israel," weeks after issuing extremely rare criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza.
"We must do what friends do: Stand by them when they are under attack and speak the truth," the Democratic New Jersey senator, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Israel Policy Forum in a pre-recorded video. "We must find the nuance; we are capable of doing so. And we owe it to our own values and the values have formed the basis of that friendship."
Menendez stressed Israel's right to defend itself from indiscriminate rocket fire, decrying those attempting to capitalize on the situation for "narrow political gains." He called to resist efforts at using the U.S.-Israel relationship for partisan politics, criticizing both progressive Democrats and Republicans for their actions over recent weeks.
"The very moment Hamas launches a barrage of rockets into Israeli civilian centers, inviting a response they know may impact civilians in Gaza, is not the moment to call for a slowing down of U.S. security assistance to Israel," Menendez said. "Halting or conditioning aid is not only illogical; it threatens to put Israeli and Palestinian civilians more at risk." At the same time, he took to task Republican holds on aid to Palestinians already authorized and earmarked by Congress.
Menendez also stressed the importance of fighting global efforts targeting Israel, including "stopping BDS from seeping into completely unrelated conversations." He called efforts to single out Israel "ludicrous, offensive and doing nothing to advance peace."
He called on the United States to play a role in facilitating, while not forcing, a two-state agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. "Unfortunately the most recent round of tragic violence has reminded us that, however small their faction may be, the actors who actively do not want this outcome are willing to use varying degrees of violence to promote their own agendas and make a sustainable, peaceful outcome all the more difficult," Menendez said.
Menendez also called on the United States to engage more productively with Palestinians, encouraging ending the Palestinian Authority policy of paying salaries to terrorists detained in Israeli prisons, reforms at UNRWA and building upon the normalization pacts between Israel and Arab states.
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He also lauded the Nita Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace act – which will support Palestinian economic projects and organizations that promote Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and coexistence. Lawmakers and experts recently told Haaretz that it is vital that the White House quickly implement the fund.
Menendez issued a rare rebuke of Israel during the fighting in Gaza, causing deep concern among Israeli officials, given his historical status as arguably the most ardent supporter of Israel in the Senate.
"I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets," Menendez said after Israel struck the 12-story al-Jalaa building in Gaza, which the Israeli military said contained Hamas intelligence offices.