Mar 20, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Bibi hits back at Schumer in talk with GOP senators

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023

President Biden with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Hamas attacked Israel last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Senate Republicans on Wednesday that invading Rafah is necessary to defeat Hamas — and criticized Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's call for Israeli elections as "wholly inappropriate."

Why it matters: Netanyahu's virtually briefed Republicans at a time when tensions have been rising between the Israeli prime minister and U.S. Democratic leaders over the war in Gaza.

  • Schumer declined a similar briefing from Netanyahu for Senate Democrats, saying that such briefings shouldn't be partisan.
  • Netanyahu said Schumer's call for Israeli elections was "wholly inappropriate," according to two senators.
  • He called it "totally outrageous to try and depose the leader of a sovereign nation who was democratically elected," Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told reporters.
  • "He just reiterated that Israel would absolutely not stand for that —and we would not stand for it if the tables were turned."

The other side: Schumer defended his speech during a Wednesday press conference.

  • "I gave this speech out of a real love for Israel," Schumer said.
  • "If you read the speech, we called only for there to be an election after the hostilities have declined," he said.

What to watch: Netanyahu told the GOP senators that U.S. military aid in a national security package that's stalled in the House is significantly important for Israel as it seeks to eliminate Hamas for its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, according to an Israeli official.

  • The prime minister acknowledged sensitivities around a possible invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, but made clear that Israel committed to seeing it through.
  • Hawley said Netanyahu told the group that Israeli troops are "trying to do everything they can to minimize" civilian casualties and strongly rejected "the idea that Israel is being cavalier about" civilian deaths.
  • Israel's counterattacks in Gaza have kills tens of thousands of Palestinians, drawing criticism from around the world and creating a humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

What they're saying: Despite his criticism of Schumer, senators said Netanyahu did not go after President Biden, whose support for Israel has led to criticism from progressives in Biden's own party.

  • Netanyau said he was "grateful for the support that he has gotten from President Biden and he hopes that that support continues," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said after the meeting.
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