Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for new elections in Israel. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Democrats Fret Netanyahu Is Driving a Partisan Wedge Through Congress

“There’s a danger that Republicans may try to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue,” one Democratic senator said of Netanyahu’s Wednesday call with Senate Republicans.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looming large over the U.S. Congress, both in the literal sense — as Netanyahu beamed into Senate Republicans’ weekly luncheon Wednesday via video conference — and as lawmakers continue to negotiate foreign aid not only for Israel but also for Ukraine and Taiwan.

Netanyahu’s leadership is driving an ever-widening wedge between lawmakers on Israel, raising concerns among Democrats that heightened partisanship around Israel will only delay further action in Congress.

“I think there’s a danger that Republicans may try to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, which would be really unfortunate,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said of Netanyahu calling in to the Senate Republicans’ luncheon. Blumenthal has supported sending aid to Israel and voted for the foreign aid bill currently stalled in the House. “There should be no partisan politics when it comes to aid for Israel.”

Netanyahu’s call with Senate Republicans came less than a week after Sen. Chuck Schumer said he considered the prime minister to be a “major obstacle” to peace in the Middle East. Schumer called for new elections in Israel — comments that Republicans rebuked, saying Schumer was meddling in Israel’s internal affairs.

Netanyahu reportedly asked to meet with Democrats as well, though Schumer declined the offer; a spokesperson for Schumer told reporters that the majority leader did not want to have those kinds of discussions in a “partisan manner.”

“Well, you know, it’s interesting because we just heard some people complaining and saying that Schumer is engaging too much in the politics in Israel, now we have Prime Minister Netanyahu videoconferencing into the Republican Senate Conference lunch,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen said. “It sounds like a double standard to me.”

Sen. Peter Welch, who praised Schumer’s comments, said Democrats support Israel but don’t support Netanyahu’s goals. “He’s for expansion in the West Bank. He’s for the military action profit, which will be catastrophic for civilians. So we’ve got a difference of opinion and policy.”

The gulf between Democrats and Republicans on support for Israel has only grown in recent months, particularly in the face of a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A $95 billion funding package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, which includes $14.1 billion for Israel and roughly $9.2 billion for humanitarian aid to Gaza, is still stalled in the House. The Senate passed the foreign aid package more than a month ago.

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Meanwhile, disagreements over aid to Israel have risked funding to Ukraine for months — a stalemate Democrats continue to raise concerns over. Republicans have floated pursuing another stand-alone bill on Israel funding but have not committed to a vote on Ukraine aid.

“I think tying these two things together, with what Netanyahu is doing, is really hurting our ability to get aid for Ukraine, and Republicans are hurting our ability to get aid for Ukraine because they don’t want to do that,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal said.

Schumer’s comments, and growing concern around Netanyahu, haven’t prompted a policy change yet, however. Notably, one aspect of the Senate’s foreign aid bill is absent in the House’s negotiations. The House bill doesn’t outline any accountability or oversight for Israel funding as it stands.

“At this point I just want us to pass a bill,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan said. “I am beyond apoplectic about the irresponsibility of the House in terms of not addressing the issues of Ukraine and Israel, Taiwan, the border, all of the things.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.