Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is once again taking aim at Benjamin Netanyahu, going so far as to label the conservative Israeli leader a “racist” who’s an obstacle to Mideast peace.
Asked about the peace process while campaigning in Iowa City, Iowa, the former three-term congressman from Texas said that “the U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships we have on the planet."
But targeting Netanyahu, O’Rourke argued that if the U.S.-Israeli relation is to be successful going forward, “it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist as he warns of Arabs coming to the polls who want to defy any prospect for peace, as he threatens to annex the West Bank and who has sided with a far-right racist party in order to maintain his hold on power.”
O’Rourke’s criticism came just hours before Tuesday’s election in Israel, where the longtime leader is fighting to keep his right-wing government in power and keep his job as prime minister, all while staring down allegations of corruption.
If he wins, Netanyahu would become the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history.
O’Rourke’s pointed comments weren’t the first time he’s slammed Netanyahu. Last month, campaigning in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, he charged that “we have a prime minister in Israel who has openly sided with racists.”
At the time, O’Rourke also jabbed at Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
“On the Palestinian side, we have an ineffectual leader. Mahmoud Abbas has not been very effective in bringing his side to the table,” he lamented.
He also criticized Abbas during Sunday's stop in Iowa.
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman disagreed with O’Rourke’s take on Netanyahu.
Lieberman, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination before becoming an independent, claimed that while Netanyahu’s “opinionated” and “controversial,” he’s not intolerant.
“This is an ally in the midst of an election,” he said on Fox Business Network during an appearance on ‘Varney & Co.’ 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.”
O’Rourke’s comments were part of a larger debate within the Democratic Party over Netanyahu and his government’s treatment of Palestinians.
Netanyahu is close with Republican President Trump. In the weeks leading up to the Israeli contest, Trump hosted Netanyahu at the White House and signed a proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, overturning longstanding U.S. policy.
The two moves appeared to give Netanyahu a foreign policy boost in the closing weeks before the election.