Mar 28, 2024 - World

Hostage families told Netanyahu they get better treatment from the White House

A man holds up a placard during a protest urging the government to secure a hostage release deal with Hamas.

A man holds up a placard during a protest in Tel Aviv on Mar. 26, 2024 urging the government to secure a hostage release deal with Hamas. Photo: Eyal Warshavsky/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Several family members of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza who have dual U.S.-Israel citizenship told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting on Thursday that they get better treatment from the White House than from the Israeli government, two sources who attended the meeting told Axios.

Why it matters: Netanyahu is facing growing public pressure in Israel and abroad as critics accuse him of not pursuing a hostage deal for political reasons.

  • Senior members of Netanyahu's government, including ultranationalist finance minister Betzalel Smotrich, have said the hostages should not be Israel's top priority and it is more important to destroy Hamas.
  • Family members of hostages claim they are being attacked on social media by Netanyahu's supporters. Some were physically attacked while publicly demonstrating and calling on the government to do more to release the hostages.

Catch up quick: President Biden has met and spoke to families of U.S. dual citizens being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza several times since the October 7 attack.

  • White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, CIA director Bill Burns and many other U.S. officials have held numerous meetings with families of hostages.

Behind the scenes: A family member of a hostage who is a U.S. citizen told Netanyahu that not only does the White House embrace the families, it also supports them and keeps them informed, the sources said.

  • They told the prime minister the Israeli government doesn't act the same way, the sources said.
  • The family member asked Netanyahu to maintain good relations with the U.S. and with President Biden despite their differences.
  • Another family member of a hostage who is also a U.S. citizen told Netanyahu it is important to keep the issue of the hostages bipartisan in U.S.

Netanyahu responded with "a long rant" about why an Israeli prime minister should know how to say no to the president of the U.S., according to two sources who attended the meeting.

  • Netanyahu said that throughout history the U.S. pressured Israel many times and ended up being wrong, the sources said.
  • He added there have been many prime ministers who said no to the U.S. and that he also says no to the U.S. when he thinks it is necessary.

Flashback: Netanyahu pointed out that Israel's first prime minister David Ben Gurion, declared independence despite warnings from the U.S.

  • He also said Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol entered the Six Day War in 1967 despite U.S. pressure and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 against U.S. objections.
  • "All these were the right things to do," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu pointed out that at the beginning of the war in Gaza, the U.S. warned Israel that a ground operation in Gaza would fail and the Israeli military would have huge number of casualties but it did not happen, he said.

  • "Now we are also doing the right thing for Israel despite U.S. opposition," Netanyahu said, according to the sources.
  • The Prime Minister's office declined to comment.

Driving the news: Netanyahu also said he was "very angry" that the U.S. did not veto the UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire and the release of the hostages, the sources said.

  • Some of the family members told Netanyahu the resolution that passed wasn't very different than the one that was vetoed by Russia a few days before.
  • But Netanyahu said, "It's a completely different resolution. They took down the connecting sentence [that linked the ceasefire to a hostage deal]. I am very angry and disappointed. When Hamas rejoiced, it was clear it was a victory for them," according to the sources.

The big picture: Netanyahu said the U.S. is not putting enough pressure on Qatar, the key mediator in the hostage talks.

  • He reiterated grievances he previously voiced and said he was very disappointed that the U.S. renewed a contract on the U.S. military base in Qatar.
  • "They can do more to press Qatar," Netanyahu said according to the sources.
Go deeper