Netanyahu Scrambles for Mysterious Meetings With U.S. Senators

Reuters/Ronen Zvulun
Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is privately working to speak with U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, in what appears to be an effort to smooth over mounting divisions over Israel’s war in Gaza.

Netanyahu requested to speak with the Senate Democratic Caucus, but Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer denied his request, suggesting these conversations should not happen in a partisan way.

“Sen. Schumer made it clear that he does not think these discussions should happen in a partisan manner,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “That’s not helpful to Israel.” Punchbowl News first reported his request.

Netanyahu also spoke virtually with Senate Republicans at their weekly lunch meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Netanyahu’s increased interest in making his case to U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill coincides with surging partisan tensions over Netanyahu’s approach to the war in Gaza. The war has killed over 30,000 Palestinians, worsening an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Just days ago, Schumer delivered a speech calling for new elections in Israel, criticizing Netanyahu’s current vision for Israel as “stuck in the past.”

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“The Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7,” Schumer said in his remarks. “Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, preserve Israel’s credibility on the world stage, and work towards a two-state solution.”

Schumer publicly criticized Netanyahu’s approach to the war last week, noting the high civilian death toll and accusing Netanyahu of shirking the responsibility to carefully avoid killing civilians in military planning.

“He won’t commit to a military operation in Rafah that prioritizes protecting civilian life. He won’t engage responsibly in discussions about a ‘day-after’ plan for Gaza, and a longer-term pathway to peace,” Schumer added.

Schumer has since been lambasted by both Netanyahu and fellow lawmakers in the GOP, who accused him of interfering in another country’s democracy and turning a cold shoulder on an ally.

“It’s inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there. That’s something that Israel, the Israeli public does on its own, and we’re not a banana republic,” Netanyahu said in a CNN interview.

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In their meeting Wednesday, Netanyahu and Republicans discussed efforts to release hostages Hamas still holds in Gaza and efforts to defeat Hamas, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told reporters following the meeting.

Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued a warning that bipartisan support for Israel is faltering. “The bipartisan support for Israel seems to be cracking on the political level in this country,” he told reporters, adding that he told Netanyahu that the United States should not be dictating Israeli elections.

“I made it clear to him it’s not the business of the United States to be giving a democratic ally advice about when to have an election or what kind of military campaign that they’d be conducting,” McConnell said.

The White House has been pressing Netanyahu to step up efforts to protect civilians in the war too. Israel has said that it intends to go after the last bastion of Hamas in Rafah, the city where Israel has forced vulnerable Palestinians to relocate during the war. The White House has been urging Netanyahu to conduct the operation in a way that protects the nearly 1.4 million innocent civilians that have sought refuge in Rafah. Israel claims it has a plan to relocate a significant portion of the 1.4 million Palestinians to safe zones.

Some American officials have expressed interest in speaking with the Israeli prime minister too. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) said Wednesday he is considering inviting Netanyahu to address Congress.

Other U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), have been urging President Joe Biden to condition U.S. military assistance to Israel on whether Israel properly allows humanitarian assistance to flow in Gaza, which has been restricted for weeks.

“The severe humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza is nearly unprecedented in modern history,” the senators wrote in a letter to Biden earlier this month.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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