Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected criticism that his close ties with US President Donald Trump have undermined bipartisan American support for Israel, with Democrat Joe Biden now set to take office following his electoral win.
Netanyahu forged warm ties with Trump after a tense relationship with the Republican president’s predecessor Barack Obama, with whom Biden served as vice president, and found himself at odds in recent years with some Democratic lawmakers.
Speaking during a Knesset vote on the normalization deal with Bahrain, which the Trump administration helped broker, Netanyahu brushed off Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s accusation that he “neglected” Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party.
“For 38 years I have invested unceasing efforts in strengthening our relations with the US, on its entire political spectrum,” Netanyahu said, referring back to his time as a young diplomat in Washington.
Referring to Lapid, he said, “He’ll explain to me how to preserve the connection with both parties? It’s absurd.”
Netanyahu touted his “warm and years-long relationship” with Biden and said he makes a point to meet with both Democratic and Republican leaders when he visits Capitol Hill, as well as with lawmakers of both parties when they travel to Israel.
“I like to meet all of them — in peace, in war, at any time. Democrats and Republicans, it makes no difference,” he said.
The premier said ensuring bipartisan support for Israel was a “cornerstone” of Israeli foreign policy and that he was looking out for the Jewish state’s interests.
He also said “contrary to false statements,” his opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “did not harm or ruin our relationship with America.” The premier noted “that despite our disagreements with President Obama,” Israel inked a $38 billion military aid agreement with the US in 2016.
Netanyahu thanked Donald Trump for his support for Israel during his presidency.
Responding to Netanyahu, Lapid accused the prime minister of dissembling.
“Netanyahu’s attempt to claim that he upheld good relationships with the Democrats is embarrassing,” Lapid tweeted. “His disconnect from what happened in the past few years in the US is so great that he doesn’t even know what the Democrats and new administration are saying about the man who established ‘Trump Heights’ during a tumultuous campaign in the US.”
Lapid was referring to a Golan Heights community named for Trump, in honor of the US president’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the territory.
“Netanyahu took an uncalculated gamble and risked the special relationship between Israel and the US. Only a new government can fix it,” said Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party.
Netanyahu has enjoyed close ties with Trump since the latter was elected US president. He cheered the Trump administration’s transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and withdrawal from the accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program.
He also featured photos of himself with Trump in giant campaign billboards.
During Trump’s tenure, Netanyahu faced Democratic criticism for barring Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) from entering Israel over their support for the boycott movement. He also faced pushback from Democratic lawmakers over his pledge to annex parts of the West Bank, plans that have since been shelved.
Since the presidential race was called for Biden on Saturday, Israeli leaders have called Biden a “longstanding friend of Israel” and touted the close ties between the countries.
There has been speculation over what Biden’s election will mean for US policy in the Middle East on issues of importance to Israel, such as the Iran nuclear deal and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
A former senior aide to Biden told Israeli television on Sunday that rejoining the Iran nuclear pact was a top priority for the US-president elect, who he said will also “bring the Palestinian issue back to the heart of the discourse.”