Far-right minister's criticism of Biden sparks anger in Israel at a sensitive time for US ties

JERUSALEM (AP) — Criticism of President Joe Biden by a far-right minister in Israel’s government sparked outrage on Sunday, underscoring the sensitivity of U.S. relations as Washington provides key support for the offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

The Biden administration has expressed unwavering support for Israel since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war, skirting Congress to rush weapons to Israel and shielding its ally from international calls for a cease-fire.

But the White House has also urged Israel to take greater measures to avoid harming civilians and to facilitate the delivery of more humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, criticized that approach in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, saying Biden was hindering Israel’s war effort and that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would give Israel greater latitude in fighting Hamas.

“Instead of giving us his full backing, Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel (to Gaza), which goes to Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said. “If Trump was in power, the U.S. conduct would be completely different.”

His remarks drew fire from Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Netanyahu‘s three-man War Cabinet, who said Ben-Gvir was “causing tremendous damage” to American-Israeli relations. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Gantz said any disputes must be “conducted in relevant forums and not in irresponsible statements in the media.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, also posting on X, said Ben-Gvir’s remarks prove that he “does not understand foreign relations” and that Netanyahu had lost control over extremists in his governing coalition.

Netanyahu, without mentioning Ben-Gvir by name, appeared to refer to his remarks when addressing a weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. The prime minister thanked Biden for his support while highlighting his own experience of dealing with multiple U.S. administrations, describing a give-and-take approach to Israel’s most important alliance.

“There are those who say ‘no’ to everything, receiving applause at home, but they’re also endangering vital interests,” he said.

Ben-Gvir, along with other far-right figures, has called for “voluntary” mass emigration of Palestinians from Gaza and for the return of Jewish settlements, which Israel dismantled when it withdrew troops from the territory in 2005. The Biden administration is opposed to any such scenario.

The dispute came at a sensitive time, as Netanyahu faces pressure from the U.S. and the international community to scale back the offensive even as Ben-Gvir and other key members of his governing coalition have threatened to bring down the government if they believe he is too soft on Hamas.

Israel is also involved in tense negotiations mediated by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt aimed at freeing more than 100 captives held by Hamas in return for a cease-fire and the release of Palestinians jailed in Israel.

The war in Gaza has leveled vast swaths of the tiny besieged enclave, displaced 85% of its population and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation. The Health Ministry in Gaza said Sunday that 127 bodies have been brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall death toll from nearly four months of fighting to 27,365.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count but says most of those killed were women and children. The real toll is likely higher as the ministry says many casualties are buried under the rubble from airstrikes or cannot be reached by first responders.

In the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250. More than 100 captives, mostly women and children, were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Thousands of people gathered again in Tel Aviv late Saturday for protests criticizing Netanyahu’s handling of the war and the plight of the hostages.

Family members of the hostages, with wide public support, are calling on Israel to reach an agreement with Hamas to bring them home. Hamas has said it won’t release any more hostages until Israel ends its offensive. The militant group is also demanding the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu has publicly ruled out both demands. Hamas is expected to respond to the latest cease-fire offer in the coming days.


Magdy reported from Cairo.


Follow AP’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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