'Israel cannot afford to be a branch of the GOP'

Opposition leader accuses Netanyahu of alienating Democrats for personal gain

MK Yair Lapid says PM to blame for Israel no longer being a bipartisan cause in US, but insists both Trump or Biden will be friends of Jewish state

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaking in the Knesset plenum, October 12, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Knesset spokesperson's office)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaking in the Knesset plenum, October 12, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Knesset spokesperson's office)

Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of jettisoning Israel’s bipartisan status in the US and instead throwing his lot in with the Republican Party alone for personal motives.

Lapid’s assault on the prime minister, delivered at the opening of his Yesh Atid-Telem’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, came a day before the US goes to the polls to choose its next president. Incumbent Republican President Donald Trump is seeking reelection, but polls show him behind his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

“Until a few years Israel was above politics in the United States,” Lapid said, according a statement from his party. “We were a bipartisan issue. All the governments of Israel preserved good relations with the Democrats and the Republicans.”

“Netanyahu decided, mostly for internal reasons, to break with that principle,” he said. “Netanyahu created an almost complete identification between the current Israeli government and the Republican Party, between himself and President Trump. He wanted to use President Trump’s justified popularity in Israel to gain some points at home.”

“Israel cannot afford to be a branch of the Republican Party,” Lapid warned and lamented that “Israel is losing the Democratic Party.”

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

“Within the Democratic Party radical voices are growing stronger,” Lapid continued. “Anti-Israel actors are working hard within the party. Instead of working with the Democrats wisely and with patience, Netanyahu’s approach is playing into the hands of the radical elements. He’s pushing the Democrats further and further away.”

“Netanyahu knows all this but like always the only thing that concerns him is his personal interest, only public relations, only his relations with certain Republican billionaires,” Lapid said, apparently referring to Republican party mega-donor Sheldon Edelson.

Nevertheless, Lapid predicted that no matter who wins, “the next president of the United States will be a friend of Israel.”

“Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are friends of Israel with a deep commitment to Israel and to Zionism,” he said.

Netanyahu on Sunday praised Trump’s Mideast policies, even as he avoided openly taking sides ahead of the US presidential election.

The prime minister told reporters that US bipartisan support has been “one of the foundations of the American-Israeli alliance.” He then went on to say “that alliance has never been stronger” and praised a slew of steps taken by Trump in favor of Israel.

Despite his stated commitment to bipartisan ties with the US, Israel’s closest and most important ally, Netanyahu has frequently been seen as siding with the Republicans.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) talks with US President Barack Obama at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery during the funeral of former president Shimon Peres on September 30, 2016. (AFP/Pool/Menahem Kahana)

Netanyahu had a cool relationship with president Barack Obama, appeared to favor Republican challenger Mitt Romney in 2012, and then delivered a major speech to Congress in 2015 to argue against Obama’s emerging nuclear deal with Iran.

After taking office, Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, winning praise from Netanyahu.

Then in August 2019, Israel banned freshman Democrat lawmakers Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from touring the West Bank. In announcing the decision, Netanyahu cited a 2017 law denying entry to supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). Though Netanyahu stressed the ban was not related to the congresswomen’s party affiliation but was rather a matter of principle, the move was widely condemned by Jewish groups in the US and Democratic lawmakers.

While Trump is popular with the Israeli public, Netanyahu’s close relationship with the US president appears to be deepening a divide with American Jews. Opinion polls have indicated that American Jews will vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

In contrast, a poll published Sunday by Channel 12 television found that 54% of Israelis favor Trump, compared to 21% who favor Biden. The other 25% said they did not know whom they prefer.

Polls ahead of the 2016 elections indicated Israelis preferred Hillary Clinton to Trump, with Trump preferred among American Israelis.

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