Mar 19, 2024 - World

Scoop: Biden privately told Bibi he's not trying to push him out

US President Joe Biden (L) speaks as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens on prior to their meeting in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

U.S. President Joe Biden (left) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty images

President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their call on Monday that he is not trying to undermine him politically, two sources with knowledge of the call told Axios.

Why it matters: In recent weeks, Netanyahu has been fuming both in private and in public over what he saw as attempts by the White House and Democrats in Congress to weaken him politically inside Israel.

Driving the news: Netanyahu first became concerned the White House is trying to undermine him after Israeli minister Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet and the prime minister's main political rival, visited Washington two weeks ago.

  • Netanyahu's suspicions increased when, in an interview with MSNBC earlier this month, Biden said Netanyahu is hurting Israel more than he is helping Israel.
  • Last week, the U.S. intelligence community released its annual unclassified assessment, which said Netanyahu's political future is in jeopardy, further ratcheting up Netanyahu's concern.

But it was a speech last week by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that enraged Netanyahu. Schumer said Netanyahu has lost his way and called for new elections in Israel when the war winds down. Biden later backed Schumer's criticism of Netanyahu.

  • Netanyahu, who over the years has been accused many times of meddling in U.S. politics, hit back hard against Schumer's comments.
  • "Israel is not a banana republic but an independent and proud democracy that elected Prime Minister Netanyahu," the ruling Likud Party said in a statement, accusing Schumer of undermining a democratically elected government.

State of play: Polls published Wednesday by all three major Israeli TV channels found the majority of Israelis want early elections when the war is over — and that if elections were held today, Netanyahu would be defeated by his rival minister Benny Gantz.

  • Netanyahu's critics in the U.S. and Israel say he is prolonging the war for political reasons to delay public protests and calls for his ouster.
  • On Sunday, Netanyahu was asked four times by CNN's Dana Bash about the polls and whether he would commit to calling for a new election once the war winds down, as Schumer suggested.
  • The prime minister repeatedly dodged the questions and called the demand for early elections "ridiculous."

Behind the scenes: During the call with Biden on Monday, Netanyahu complained about Schumer's speech and Biden's endorsement of it. He also claimed the public political attacks against him in the U.S. are interference in Israeli politics, the sources said.

  • The sources said Biden pushed back and told Netanyahu he is not trying to undermine him and has no intention to intervene in Israeli domestic politics.
  • White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a briefing with reporters on Monday that Netanyahu "did raise his concerns about a variety of things that have come out in the American press."
  • Sullivan added that from Biden's perspective "this is not a question of politics. It's not a question of public statements. It's a question of policy and strategy."
  • One source said the fact that Netanyahu aired his grievances with Biden helped to somewhat clear the atmosphere.

Between the lines: Sullivan hinted it is Netanyahu that is trying to influence U.S. public opinion and not the other way around.

  • "You have the prime minister speaking on American television about his concerns about Americans interfering in Israeli politics and then your question is should Americans be speaking into Israeli politics, which, in fact, we don't do nearly as much as they speak into ours", he said.

The White House and the Israeli Prime Minister's office didn't respond to questions.

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