WASHINGTON — Two Democratic senators considered among Israel’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill have expressed rare criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following his political pact with the racist Otzma Yehudit party ahead of the April 9 election.
Their remarks join a wave of protest over the issue within pro-Israel circles in the United States, including from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential lobby group supporting the Israeli government.
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin are two of only four Democrats who voted against the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015. They have also been, for the past six years, the most senior Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are considered close to AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups.
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“The reality is that the party that Prime Minister Netanyahu has aligned himself with is the antithesis of American values,” said Menendez. He added that “since America plays such a significant role in supporting the State of Israel, you have to wonder at the end of the day how can we be supportive of such an alignment.”
Menendez clarified that “I’m not opining on the election, but I am opining on the views of the party that the prime minister has aligned himself with.”
Cardin was quoted as saying: “This is an outrageous coalition, and I think what AIPAC said expressed the views of most people that I know. We’re not weighing in on foreign elections. We are weighing in on a strategy that goes beyond elections.”
Cardin and Menendez have both promoted legislation against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in recent years, and both chose to attend Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress in March 2015, in which he attacked President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy.
Their condemnation of the deal with Otzma Yehudit follows critical statements by two potential presidential candidates within the party. Sen. Amy Klobuchar called the move “wrong” and quoted a statement by the American Jewish Committee denouncing it. Sen. Elizabeth Warren accused Netanyahu of “embracing far-right extremism.”