Beto O'Rourke slams Israeli leader Netanyahu as ally of 'racists'

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Beto O’Rourke is taking aim at embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming the steadfast ally of Republican President Trump “has openly sided with racists.”

The Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman from Texas – on the campaign trail in New Hampshire – also criticized negotiators ostensibly trying to end the generations-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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“Right now we don’t have the best negotiating partners on either side. We have a prime minister in Israel who has openly sided with racists,” he charged.

O’Rourke has been a critic of Israel’s longtime conservative leader, who is facing a corruption scandal at home, but the comments were some of his most pointed in describing Netanyahu. 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.

O’Rourke – who narrowly lost his 2018 bid to unseat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz – spoke to the issue Tuesday night at Keene State College. The stop was his first kicking off a jam-packed 48-hour swing through all 10 counties of New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House.

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The candidate was asked during a question and answer session with the crowd about accepting large sums of contributions from pro-Israeli lobbyists during his 2018 Senate election in Texas.

“If you’re asking if the contributions I accept connect to the policies I support, the answer is no,” he responded.

O’Rourke once again called for a “two-state solution” between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve peace in the Middle East. “I believe in peace and dignity and full human rights for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. The only way to achieve that … is a two-state solution,” he emphasized.

During Wednesday's New Hampshire stops, meanwhile, O’Rourke targeted sales of assault weapons, skirted his stance on late-term abortions, called for pre-K starting for four-year-olds, and acknowledged that he has a learning curve as he runs for president.

Asked during an event at Plymouth State University about his stance on assault weapons, O’Rourke repeated his belief that such firearms should be for military use only.

He pledged that if “you own something like an AR-15 and I’m your president, keep it. Continue to use it responsibly. I don’t want to take anyone’s guns from anyone in the country.”

But he said the AR-15, “which is a variant of something that was designed for battlefield use, I see no reason for it to be sold into our communities.”

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Speaking with reporters, O’Rourke was asked by Fox News how he would have voted on a controversial GOP-sponsored Senate bill that would have required doctors to provide medical care to newborns, including those born during failed abortions. Most Senate Democrats slammed the bill – which failed to reach a 60-vote threshold to advance – as politically charged.

“I would have listened to the women that I wanted to represent in the state of Texas. I would have listened to doctors and medical providers. I would have looked at the facts and understood the truth. And then I would have voted with those women to make their own decisions about their own bodies,” O’Rourke answered. But he did not say how he would have voted on the bill, which became a political lightning rod.

The answer was similar to how O’Rourke’s fielded questions about abortion since launching his presidential campaign last week. The candidate gave a hint of his support for abortion rights by adding that “I’ve seen the effects of regressive women’s health care policies in Texas, the inability to get much needed medical care… I want to make sure at a national level we don’t make those mistakes.”

As a three-term congressman representing El Paso in the House, O’Rourke supported a bill in 2017 that would have lifted most state restrictions on abortion, including waiting periods.

Abortion has become a pressing issue in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with fears by the party that the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court will roll back abortion rights that have existed for generations, while conservatives have accused prominent Democrats of indifference to infanticide.

March 20, 2019: Beto O'Rourke speaks at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. 

March 20, 2019: Beto O'Rourke speaks at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. 

O’Rourke also repeated his push for universal pre-kindergarten, starting at the age of four.

He said he’d partially pay for the program by asking “the very wealthiest to pay a greater share of their wealth.”

And he explained that “it’s going to cause us to spend more up front but we’re going to see much greater return economically in taxes paid down the road from people who are earning far more than they would have otherwise.”

O’Rourke raised a record-breaking $80 million during last year’s Senate campaign, and he set a new record in his White House run, hauling in $6.1 million in his first 24 hours as a candidate, the most by any 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. On Wednesday, he announced that the contributions came from 128,000 individuals, with the average donation standing at $48.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who raised $5.9 million in the day after he announced his candidacy last month, had contributions from 223,000 people, with the average donation standing at $27.

While O’Rourke’s campaign cash made headlines, so did a series of missteps right out of the gate.

This past weekend O’Rourke apologized for joking at several events on Thursday and Friday that his wife Amy had been raising the couple’s three children "sometimes with my help."

Discussing the comments – which critics said spotlighted unwelcome gender stereotypes – O’Rourke promised “not only will I not say that again, but I’ll be more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage.”

On Wednesday, O’Rourke told the crowd that “Amy and I are raising those kiddos.”

Asked if there’s a learning curve on the presidential campaign trail, he quickly answered: “Yeah. Oh yeah. I am smart enough to know that there’s so much more for me to learn. The only way for me to learn that is to show up in the communities I seek to serve, and hear things from people’s perspective.”

Fox News’ Gregg Re contributed to this report.