Legislative elections begin this week in Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking his fifth term, has his toughest challenge yet. Not only does he face a tough opponent in Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of Israel's military, but Netanyahu's administration has been dogged by corruption charges.
The prime minister has a friend in President Trump, however, who often praises Netanyahu's leadership, most recently at a White House press conference where he announced that the U.S. recognized Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights.
Today, it was my great honor to welcome Prime Minister @Netanyahu of Israel back to the @WhiteHouse where I signed a Presidential Proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Read more: https://t.co/yAAyR2Hxe4 pic.twitter.com/gWp6nwRwsY— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told press that the administration is not interested in interfering in Israeli elections, but for Israeli voters it's hard to avoid the Trump-Netanyahu friendship.
Other U.S. politicians have had little flattery for the Israeli prime minister. On Monday, 2020 Democratic hopeful Beto O'Rourke called Netanyahu a "racist," because he has "warned against Arabs coming to the polls,” sided with "a far-right, racist party" and has threatened to annex the West Bank. That, O'Rourke charged, proves Netanyahu wants to end all prospects for peace.
Beto O'Rourke: "The US-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet. And that relationship, if it is to be successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a Prime Minister who is racist." pic.twitter.com/cZoEerEU82— The Hill (@thehill) April 7, 2019
Not that his opinion will matter much to Israelis trying to decide their future.
O'Rourke was immediately condemned by Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman, a former senator from Connecticut.
“This is an ally in the midst of an election,” he said on FOX Business on Monday. “What I would say, and I know Prime Minister Netanyahu a long time, I agree with him a lot of the time, I sometimes disagree — he’s not a racist.”
If Netanyahu does survive this week's election, he will become Israel's longest-serving prime minister, surpassing David Ben-Gurion.