ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Lapid: 'A direct attack on Israel's international status'

Attacking Biden, Ben Gvir says Trump would have been more supportive of Israel

US president ‘busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel, which goes to Hamas,’ far right minister tells Wall Street Journal; PM criticizes those who ‘endanger vital interests’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2024. (Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2024. (Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir harshly criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Gaza, accusing it of benefitting Hamas and arguing that Israel would have been better off dealing with a second Trump administration.

“Instead of giving us his full backing, [President Joe] Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel, which goes to Hamas,” Ben Gvir declared in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Sunday. “If Trump was in power, the U.S. conduct would be completely different.”

The far-right minister’s comments — which were subsequently repudiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — came on the heels of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant publicly thanking US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Biden administration “for their efforts in pursuing a framework for the return of the hostages, for their commitment to Israel’s security, and their leadership in strengthening security in the Middle East region.”

Since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, the Biden administration fast-tracked the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of munitions to Israel, bypassing congressional review.

At the same time as it has provided Israel with weapons and diplomatic backing in its war against Hamas, the White House has also pushed Jerusalem to allow more aid to reach Gazans and is reportedly weighing the use of weapons supplies as leverage to pressure Israel to reduce the intensity of its operations in the Gaza Strip.

This approach, paired with the administration’s criticism of Ben Gvir’s repeated calls for Israel to encourage the “voluntary emigration” of the Strip’s population, has drawn the minister’s ire, leading him to recently declare that Israel was “not another star in the American flag.”

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ben Gvir said he wished to “encourage Gazans to voluntarily emigrate to places around the world” by using cash incentives. A number of lawmakers, including members of the cabinet, have pushed for the “resettlement” of Palestinians from Gaza, an idea that has been roundly rejected by the international community, which has warned Israel that the forced transfer of populations constitutes a violation of international law.

US President Joe Biden speaks at the First in the Nation Celebration held by the South Carolina Democratic Party at the State Fairgrounds, January 27, 2024, in Columbia, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

Ben Gvir’s latest criticism of Biden — who last year panned members of the Israeli government as some “of the most extreme” he had seen in his political career — came only days after he lashed out at the administration for an executive order implementing sanctions against violent settlers.

“It is time for America to rethink its policy in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. President Biden is wrong about the citizens of the State of Israel and the heroic settlers,” Ben Gvir tweeted.

Calling Biden the “worst president that we’ve had in the history of country,” Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, claimed during a campaign event last month that that if he were still US president “Russia would not have attacked [Ukraine], Israel would never have been attacked.”

“The Ukraine situation is so horrible, the Israeli situation is so horrible, what’s happened. We’re going to get them solved, we are going to get them solved very fast,” he promised.

In addition to his comments about Biden, Ben Gvir also told the Wall Street Journal that Netanyahu stood “at a crossroads” and “has to choose in what direction he’ll go” — although he added that he has no intention of pulling out of the government, despite repeated threats to do just that.

Addressing the cabinet at the start of its weekly meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu declared that he did not “need help to know how to navigate our relations with the US and the international community, while standing firm on our national interests.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Oct. 28, 2023 (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)

“I want to tell you something from my experience: there are those who say ‘yes to everything, in places where you must say ‘no.’ They are applauded by the international community, but endanger our national security. And there are those who say ‘no’ to everything, receive applause at home, but they also endanger vital interests,” he said, thanking the Biden administration for its assistance.

“As a sovereign country fighting for its existence and future, we make our own decisions, even in those cases where there is no agreement with our American friend,” Netanyahu said.

The premier’s comments came after Ben Gvir was criticized by opposition leaders, as well as apparently by a key Netanyahu ally.

Rather than focus on internal security issues, Ben Gvir is “causing tremendous damage to Israel’s foreign relations,” Minister Benny Gantz, the leader of the National Unity party, tweeted on Sunday.

Minister Benny Gantz attends a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on October 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)

“It is permissible to have disputes, even with our greatest and most important ally, but they must be conducted in the relevant forums and not in irresponsible statements in the media, which harm the strategic relations of the State of Israel, the security of the state and the war effort at this time,” he declared, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rein in his cabinet member.

In an implicit criticism of Ben Gvir, Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri — a close ally of Netanyahu — thanked Biden for his willingness to pay “a personal and political price to help us.”

“The people of Israel will forever remember you for standing with Israel during some of our toughest hours. You and America are kingdoms of kindness. Even among friends and allies, there are differences of opinion,” he tweeted in English.

Ben Gvir’s remarks constituted “a direct attack on Israel’s international status” and the war effort, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid declared, adding that such rhetoric is “harmful to Israel’s security and above all proves that [the minister] understands nothing about foreign policy.”

“I would call on the prime minister to restrain him, but Netanyahu has no control over the extremists in his government,” Lapid stated.

Opposition Leader and Yesh Atid MK Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 29, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor party chief Merav Michaeli tweeted: “What Netanyahu did against Obama and against Biden under the guise of leadership, Ben Gvir is doing under the guise of brattishness.

“Both are part of the ruin that Netanyahu has brought and continues to bring upon Israel since he and Ben Gvir incited against Rabin, and even now they are inciting against Biden,” she wrote.

Netanyahu has been accused over the years of encouraging incitement that led to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination while Ben Gvir, who was a teenager at the time of Rabin’s death, had been filmed threatening the prime minister while holding an ornament taken from the prime minister’s car.

Times of Israel staff and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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