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Netanyahu addresses major Jewish-Republican conference in rare show of partisanship by foreign ally

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference on Saturday amounts to a show of support for a US political party ahead of a presidential election that is rare for a foreign ally.

Netanyahu, about to return to power as the leader of the US’ strongest ally in the Middle East, has collaborated with Democratic presidents in the past. But his close relationship with Donald Trump — who launched another bid for the White House earlier this week — has now manifested itself in a degree of partisanship that could make working with Biden challenging if Netanyahu becomes prime minister again, as expected to the end of Israel’s parliamentary term. .

Netanyahu will appear via satellite in a conversation with Matthew Brooks, CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who previously noted that “there isn’t much daylight between Netanyahu and Republicans, at least Republican election leaders,” according to Haaretz. This was a criticism of Netanyahu from current Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who has prioritized improving the country’s relationship with Democrats after the Trump and Netanyahu administrations.

“The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous,” Lapid, the former secretary of state, said at a handover ceremony last year. “The Republicans are important to us, their friendship is important to us, but not just the friendship of the Republican Party.”

“We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House, and they are angry,” he added. “We need to change the way we work with them.”

The conference, which kicks off Friday, has drawn potential contenders for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, with Trump expected to speak via a live stream sometime Saturday.

Biden has known Netanyahu for decades, working with him as vice president during the Obama administration and as a senator who once chaired the foreign relations committee. But after Biden’s election, the president seemed not to have made it a priority to work with the Israeli leader whom Trump called “the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House” during the 2020 presidential election.

To be fair, Netanyahu has a long history of affiliation with the GOP and the party’s presidential candidates, but recent decisions have shown a further tilt to the right that perhaps portends potential challenges with a democratic government. Democrats in the US appear to have responded to this pivot in their view of Netanyahu, with just 14 percent approving of him in a 2019 YouGov poll.

Perhaps that’s why Biden was slow to call Netanyahu after the US president’s inauguration; he spoke to the leaders of China and Russia before meeting the Prime Minister of Israel. And it remains unclear whether Netanyahu will receive another invitation to address a joint session of Congress, an opportunity he has had three times before. The White House denied that the decision was “intentionally diss,” but it was interpreted that way by some Israeli leaders.

Still, it wasn’t surprising given the decisions Netanyahu made that seemed to show his opposition to the Biden administration’s potential policies, including the approval of hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank during the presidential transition period. And just weeks after the 2020 election, Netanyahu delivered a speech criticizing Biden’s plan to rejoin the international accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump had pulled the United States out of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a move welcomed by Netanyahu.

More recently, this month’s Israeli election results gave Netanyahu a narrow parliamentary majority, and perhaps more surprisingly, a victory for the country’s far right. Members of one of Israel’s formerly fringe, fundamentally racist and outspoken anti-democratic movements could find themselves in some of the country’s most influential political positions.

Bezalel Smotrich, who describes himself as “proudly homophobic,” has announced plans to drastically change Israel’s legal system. And Itamar Ben Gvir, who advocates expelling “disloyal” citizens of Israel — both Jewish and Arab — is expected to be an influential voice in Netanyahu’s government.

“We demand a change,” Ben Gvir said on Tuesday after preliminary results showed the slate secured about 15 seats, becoming the third-largest party in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Ben Gvir, a leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, addressed an enthusiastic crowd of young, religious men who danced to music as they chanted “Death to terrorists!” shouted.

“We demand an absolute distinction between those who are loyal to Israel, with whom we have no problem at all, and those who undermine our precious country,” he said.

Democrats remain steadfast supporters of Israel, while Republicans have a long history of close ties to Netanyahu. In January 2015, Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), unbeknownst to the Obama White House, invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on Iran — a major disapproval of the presidency.

“Congress alone can make this decision,” Boehner said at the time. “I don’t think I’m poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat in the world, and the president pretty much wrote about it last night.

Netanyahu used the March 2015 speech to warn of a deal with Iran over its nuclear program and economic sanctions. President Barack Obama announced the agreement, reached with European allies, in August 2015.

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