Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke offered sweeping criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, outright calling him “racist” and an obstacle to peace.
Speaking in Iowa as he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president, O’Rourke said the US-Israeli relationship was among the most important “on the planet” and singled out Netanyahu.
“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, as he warns about Arabs coming to the polls, who wants 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 said.
O’Rourke continued, saying he did not believe Netanyahu “represents the true will of the Israeli people” or the “best interests” of the relationship between the US and Israel. He went on to endorse a two-state solution to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We must be able to transcend his current leadership to make sure that that alliance is strong, that we continue to push for and settle for nothing less than a two-state solution, because that is the best opportunity for peace for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine,” O’Rourke said. “It is the best opportunity for the full human rights of everyone who is living in that region.”
CNN has reached out to the Israeli Embassy in Washington for comment.
O’Rourke made his comment to reporters after a rally where a voter asked about the conflict in the region. In the rally itself, O’Rourke offered similar criticism of Netanyahu, while also saying the Palestinian Authority had not acted in good faith.
O’Rourke’s comments joined a larger debate taking place in the US and Democratic Party about Israel and Netanyahu, whom President Donald Trump hosted in the White House just weeks before Israel is set to hold decisive elections in which Netanyahu is up for re-election.
Trump has sought to seize on the issue, including by invoking a controversy in the House over anti-Semitism, while many Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020 have rebuffed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a political group strongly supportive of Netanyahu.
Trump signed a proclamation in March recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, overturning longstanding US policy regarding the area and handing Netanyahu a significant foreign policy victory in the run-up to the upcoming election.
A report from Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as telling Channel 12 News Saturday, “A Palestinian state will endanger our existence and I withstood huge pressure over the past eight years. No prime minister has withstood such pressure. We must control our destiny.”
Netanyahu went on to say, “I will extend sovereignty but I don’t distinguish between the settlement blocs and the isolated ones, because each settlement is Israeli and I will not hand it over to Palestinian sovereignty.”
Netanyahu has tacked further right in the leadup to the April elections, including working openly to improve the electoral prospects of lawmakers with roots in a party banned in the 1980s for racism.