FM Katz: Aid package sends strong message to our enemies

Minister claims Biden harming ties with Israel, says he’d vote for Trump if he could

Comments from Amichai Chikli accusing US president of failing to project strength come hours before package earmarking billions in military aid expected to be signed into law

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli speaks at a Knesset committee meeting, on December 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli speaks at a Knesset committee meeting, on December 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Israeli government minister bashed United States President Joe Biden as weak and said he would vote for presumptive Republican challenger Donald Trump if he could vote in the American elections.

The Wednesday comment from Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli, which drew an immediate rebuke from Israel’s opposition leader, came as Biden was set to sign a bill sending billions in military aid to Israel hours after it was passed by Congress.

“The US is not projecting strength under [Biden’s] leadership, and it’s harming Israel and other countries,” Chikli, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Kan Radio.

“He said ‘Don’t’ at the start of the war — to Hezbollah, as well as Iran. We saw the result,” he added, referring to Iran’s unprecedented launch of hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel, which were shot down by Israel with the help of the US and other countries.

“If I were an American citizen with the right to vote, I’d vote for Trump and Republicans,” he added.

The remarks underlined growing divisions between Netanyahu’s government and Biden’s administration, which has tempered its support of Israel’s war effort in Gaza with criticism of the Israeli military’s approach to the fight, the handling of humanitarian needs in the Strip and Netanyahu’s leadership. Washington has grown progressively more bold in projecting its unease as protests against its support for Israel have gained steam across the country, building into a formidable challenge to Biden’s re-election hopes.

“Biden is a friend of Israel, but he’s under intense pressure that is affecting him and creating real damage to relations between the countries,” Chikli added.

File: US President Joe Biden, along with members of his national security team, receive an update on an airborne attack on Israel from Iran, as they meet in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, April 13, 2024. (Adam Schultz/The White House via AP)

Responding to the remarks, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said Israel has a “government of complete stupidity.”

“This is what comes hours after the Senate approved $14 billion in security assistance and a few hours before President Biden is supposed to sign it,” Lapid wrote on X.

Biden promised late Tuesday to immediately sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk Wednesday. The package earmarks some $13 billion in military aid for Israel, as well as another $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and $2.4 billion for US military activities in response to attacks in the Middle East. The lion’s share of the $95 billion package will go to bolster Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

In a statement early Wednesday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz celebrated the passage of the long-delayed military assistance, thanking the legislative chamber’s Democratic and Republican leaders for their “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“As we mark 200 days to the barbaric October 7th terror attack by Hamas, Israel and the United States stand together in the fight against terrorism, defending democracy and our shared values,” Katz said in a statement. “The Israel aid package that now passed both houses of Congress is a clear testament to the strength of our alliance and sends a strong message to all our enemies.”

Passage of the aid, which comes on top of $3.8 billion on foreign military assistance the US sends Israel annually, will come as anti-Israel protests have ramped up on college campuses and in cities across the US, with some calling to cut off military aid to Israel.

The issue has proven vexing for the president, who has long joined the US foreign policy establishment in embracing Israel as an indispensable Middle East ally. Yet he also has criticized Netanyahu for mounting deaths in Gaza and told him that future US aid depends on Israel taking steps to protect civilians.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators face off in front of the entrance of Columbia University, which is occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters in New York on April 22, 2024. One of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators is holding up a poster of Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious Fatah commander convicted of masterminding terror attacks during the Second Intifada. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

The US is also mulling blacklisting the Israel Defense Forces’ Netzah Yehuda battalion and other units over alleged human rights abuses, and has levied unprecedented sanctions on Israeli citizens accused of extremist attacks on Palestinians.

Trump, who like Netanyahu is currently on trial, frequently touts himself as a devoted ally of Israel, pointing to his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and his administration’s role in brokering the 2020 Abraham Accords, which saw Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, normalize ties with Israel. But he has also complained bitterly about Netanyahu due to the prime minister’s recognition of Biden as the winner of the 2020 election and has accused him of betrayal.

Republican presidential candidate and former US president Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wisconsin on April 2, 2024. (AP/Mike Roemer)

Days after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, Trump criticized Israel for failing to anticipate the attack and called Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a “jerk.” More recently, the mercurial former US president has spoken in favor of Israel “finishing the job” against Hamas, but has also panned Israel’s handling of the war and said it should finish it up quickly.

As Diaspora minister, Chikli is charged with maintaining Israel’s relations with Jewish communities in the US and around the world. Many Jewish leaders have criticized Trump for invective hurled at the Jewish community for a perceived lack of loyalty.

Earlier this month, Trump said that “any Jewish person who votes for a Democrat or votes for Biden should have their head examined.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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