Reps. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, and Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican, hug during a bipartisan group of House members’ vigil for Israel on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, Oct. 12, 2023. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Fifteen Jewish Democrats, including some pro-Israel stalwarts, slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he rejected the idea of creating an independent Palestinian state after the Israel-Hamas war.
“We strongly disagree with the prime minister,” said the brief statement released Friday morning by the office of Rep. Jerry Nadler, the New York representative who is the unofficial dean of Jewish House Democrats. “A two-state solution is the path forward.”
The statement — which comes amid rising calls from some Jewish lawmakers for a ceasefire — signifies growing impatience among Democrats with Netanyahu as the war persists indefinitely. The prime minister, who heads a coalition with far-right elements, has openly rejected the Biden administration’s hopes of forging a postwar two-state outcome.
In a press conference Thursday, Netanyahu used unusually clear language in opposing Biden administration initiatives.
“Therefore, I make clear in any future foreseeable arrangement — with an agreement or without an agreement — the state of Israel must have security control of the entire area west of the Jordan,” he said, referring to territory that includes the West Bank, where some 3 million Palestinians live. “It’s a necessary requirement, and it clashes with the idea of sovereignty, what can you do?”
He continued: “This truth I tell our American friends. And I also obstructed an attempt to coerce us into a reality that would harm the security of Israel. An Israeli prime minister must be able to say no even to our best friends, to say no when necessary and to say yes when possible.”
Netanyahu’s statement was an especially strong rejection of the idea of Palestinian sovereignty, and its substance also reflects what he has said for years about the future of the West Bank. In 2018, he gave a speech proposing a “state-minus” for Palestinians in which Israel retained a military presence across the West Bank. The same idea was reflected in the 2020 plan proposed by then-President Donald Trumpin which Israel would retain security control over the territory of a future Palestinian state. Palestinian leadership roundly rejects that idea.
Netanyahu endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in a landmark speech in 2009, then backtracked on the eve of an election six years later.
John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, was not surprised by Netanyahu’s statement.
“This is not a new comment by Prime Minister Netanyahu,” he told reporters Thursday. “We obviously see it differently. We believe that the Palestinians have every right to live in an independent state with peace and security. And the President and his team is going to continue to work on that.”
Netanyahu and Biden spoke on Friday for the first time since Dec. 23.
Netanyahu’s tough talk appears to have triggered the two-sentence statement, along with other notes of reproval from pro-Israel Democrats. It also drew fire from at least one Jewish Democrat in the Senate, Brian Schatz of Hawaii. “He is, at every opportunity, making things worse,” Schatz told NBC.
Rep. Ritchie Torres, a progressive New York Democrat who is not Jewish and is known for his outspoken defense of Israelsaid that closing off any prospect of a Palestinian state was unsustainable.
“I am under no illusion that a two-state solution will happen in the immediate future but to assert that it should NEVER happen — that either Jews or Palestinians should never have self-determination — is morally wrong,” he said Friday on X, formerly Twitter, without directly naming Netanyahu.
The list of 15 Jewish Democrats who issued Friday’s statement was significant for including at least seven lawmakers endorsed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s affiliated political action committee. AIPAC discourages open disagreement with Israeli governments on security issues.
Those seven are Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, Dan Goldman of New York, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Mike Levin, Adam Schiff and Brad Sherman of California. (AIPAC endorsed Schiff and Slotkin in 2022; they are running for Senate this year, and the lobby is waiting to see who emerges from the primaries before giving an endorsement.)
Sherman, long one of Israel’s fiercest defenders in Congress, is a standout: He helped found the now defunct Israel Project, launched in the early 2000s to push back against negative portrayals of the country in the media. In a contentious primary race between two Jewish incumbents in 2012, he accused his rival, Howard Berman, of being weak on Iranand was one of a minority of Democrats who in 2015 opposed the Iran nuclear deal.
Now Sherman has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Netanyahu. In a post on X, he lashed out at the prime minister.
“First #Netanyahu fails #Israel by basing a highly inadequate portion of the IDF near Gaza in the months before October 7,” Sherman wrote, echoing a critique from Netanyahu’s Israeli critics. “Then he ignores the warnings of October 6. Then this.”
He linked to a Guardian article about Netanyahu’s statements. Reports have said the Israeli establishment ignored substantive intelligence from lower-level officials ahead of Oct. 7 showing that Hamas terrorists were preparing for the massacre they carried out that day, which began the current war.
Slotkin, a CIA veteran, also was outspoken in a post.
“This is plain wrong,” she wrote. “A two-state solution has been official US policy for decades for a reason: because however far away it feels right now, it’s the only way to bring dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians, and lasting stability to the Middle East.”
Sherman and Slotkin did not respond to requests for further comment, nor did spokespeople for a number of the others, including Nadler.
There are 24 Jewish Democrats in the House, and the nine who did not sign the statement include some who are among Israel’s most outspoken defenders, among them Brad Schneider of Illinois, Jared Moskowitz and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
“I agree with Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken that a future peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and a better future for all people in the region, requires both a true safe and secure, democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a very real pathway for Palestinians to realize their own peaceful aspirations for a viable state,” Schneider said in a text to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
A spokesman Moskowitz said he may issue a statement later. Spokespeople for Wasserman Schultz and Gottheimer did not return requests for comment.
Four of the signatories have already made clear their unhappiness with the direction of the war, joining calls for a ceasefire, including Becca Balint of Vermont, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Dean Phillips of Minnesotawho is also running in a longshot campaign for president.
The other three signatories are Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Seth Magaziner of Rhode Island and Kim Schrier of Washington.
This article originally appeared on JTA.org.