Netanyahu: 'His support for Israel never wavered'

Israelis across political spectrum salute McCain as man of values, true friend

Lawmakers honor late Republican senator for his deep integrity, patriotism, longstanding commitment to the security of the Jewish state

John McCain (with Joe Lieberman) visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City March 19, 2008. (Nati Shohat /FLASH90)
John McCain (with Joe Lieberman) visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City March 19, 2008. (Nati Shohat /FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli politicians on Sunday hailed US Sen. John McCain for his principled leadership and stalwart support of the Jewish state, following his death on Saturday.

McCain, a war hero and towering figure in American politics known for reaching across the aisle in an increasingly divided nation, passed away Saturday following a battle with brain cancer. He was 81.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of John McCain, a great American patriot and a great supporter of Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted in English Sunday morning. “I will always treasure the constant friendship he showed to the people of Israel and to me personally.”

“His support for Israel never wavered,” he said. “It sprang from his belief in democracy and freedom. The State of Israel salutes John McCain.”

President Reuven Rivlin bid farewell to the “great leader,” whom he hailed as a “defender of his people, a man of strong values, and a true supporter of Israel.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised McCain as “an American war hero” and one of Israel’s “greatest friends.” Liberman recalled that in a recent meeting with McCain, the senator showed him a photo of his time in captivity and told him that “even despite my terrible suffering I never wavered in my commitment to the values of freedom and justice.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meeting Senator John McCain during a visit to Israel in 2015. (GPO)

Former prime minister Ehud Barak said that McCain, a longtime personal friend, was among the few principled political leaders today.

“A man that was in touching distance of the White House, but never let it crush his spirit. Neither in Vietnam, nor at the peak of his political career in Washington.” Barak added that McCain was “a huge friend to Israel, especially regarding its security.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) called McCain “a war hero who continued to fight in public life for his beliefs with a clear and steady voice until his last days.”

“He loved Israel and believed in its righteousness and always supported its security. Israel owes him a big thanks. I had the privilege of working with him and will always remember the rare person he was,” added Livni, who was foreign minister when McCain visited Israel in 2008.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said McCain was “one of Israel’s biggest friends.”

“He loved his land with all his might and he recognized Israel’s challenges. Over 36 years of public service in the House of Representatives and Senate, Israeli governments knew they always had a friend in him,” she wrote on Twitter.

Senator John McCain, left, with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on March 19, 2008. (Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)

McCain, a Republican who served in the US Senate for three decades and ran for president twice, made human rights and Israel centerpieces of his advocacy for a robust global American influence.

He died Saturday at his ranch in Arizona after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. On Saturday night, a black hearse accompanied by a police motorcade could be seen driving away from the ranch near Sedona where the Republican senator spent his final weeks.

“My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years. He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the the place he loved best,” McCain’s widow Cindy wrote on Twitter.

The scion of a decorated military family, McCain embraced his role as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, pushing for aggressive US military intervention overseas and eager to contribute to “defeating the forces of radical Islam that want to destroy America.”

McCain ran for president in 2000, but ultimately lost the Republican primary to George W. Bush. In 2008, he considered making independent Sen. Joe Lieberman his running mate, but the GOP establishment resisted, saying Lieberman’s backing for reproductive rights would drive away conservatives, and McCain at the last minute chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin instead.

In the 2008 election and later on, McCain was a vigorous advocate of using all means of pressure to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“I have to look you in the eye and tell you that the United States of America can never allow a second Holocaust,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 during the campaign.

Senator John McCain, US Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, visits Hall of names at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on March 18, 2008. ( Michal Fattal/ Flash90)

McCain repeatedly hammered Barack Obama for his expressed willingness to meet with Iran’s leaders and later on led the charge against the 2015 deal spearheaded by Obama that swapped sanctions relief for a partial rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

In 2016, he called a UN Security Council resolution slamming Israel for West Bank settlements building, which passed after the US withheld its veto, “another shameful chapter.”

US President Donald Trump, who once mocked McCain’s war record, said he sent his “deepest sympathies and respect.”

McCain had been a rare and outspoken Republican critic of Trump, accusing him of “naivete,” “egotism” and of sympathizing with autocrats. He made a decisive vote last year that killed Republican attempts to repeal Obama’s health care reforms, and Trump never forgave him.

The sharp-tongued McCain had disagreements with many fellow politicians — including inside his own camp — but the Republican stalwart was widely recognized for his deep integrity, and condolences came swift from the highest reaches of American politics.

“We are all in his debt,” said Obama. “We shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.”

Former president Bill Clinton hailed McCain for having “frequently put partisanship aside,” while his former vice president Al Gore said he always admired how the senator “would work to find common ground, no matter how hard.”

“John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order,” said former president George W. Bush, whom McCain sought and failed to defeat in 2000 and succeed in 2008.

In this March 4, 2009 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., looks on as President Barack Obama makes remarks on government contracts reform in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington. (photo credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

On Capitol Hill, McCain became close friends with Senator Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — a trio dubbed the “Three Amigos.”

Now that the trio is missing its driving force, Graham wrote that “America and Freedom have lost one of her greatest champions… And I’ve lost one of my dearest friends and mentor.”

Hailing him as a “truth-teller” with “unsurpassed” dedication to the US and its military, the top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said he would seek to rename a Senate building in his honor.

McCain stopped receiving cancer treatment earlier this week, his family saying “the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict.”

He had spent more than three decades in the Senate, looming large in debates over war and peace and the moral direction of the nation. Before joining the upper chamber, he served as a US representative from 1983 to 1987.

McCain had been away from the Senate floor since last December, remaining at his Arizona home for treatment of glioblastoma — the same form of brain cancer that took the life of another Senate giant, Democrat Ted Kennedy, in 2009.

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