By Bridget Johnson - 04/25/10 06:26 PM EDT
The tone against the Obama administration over its Israel policy is sharpening on both sides of the aisle, with one Republican congressman charging that the president is “increasing danger” in the world.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a longtime supporter of Israel, said on a radio show last week that the administration's stance on the issue -- and “terrible” treatment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- has been “counterproductive.”
“One side agrees with us, one side doesn't, and we're pushing hard to make sure the right side wins – and if not, we'll have to take it to the next step,” he said.
Republicans are notching up their tone over the issue, as well.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) told The Hill that the “embarrassing and reckless” administration stances meant that President Barack Obama is “increasing danger in the world, not decreasing it.”
Price, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said he's concerned with the White House's “incredible disconnect between the U.S. and Israel.”
“The administration is incapable of believing that their actions can have marked consequences on the free world,” he said.
The Obama administration has taken heat from lawmakers since the row sparked by a lower-level Israeli official announcing new construction in East Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden's visit there in March.
Though Netanyahu apologized for the timing, he made clear -- including in a Washington speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and scores of lawmakers -- that Israel would proceed with building in the region that Palestinians want as their capital.
Netanyahu then had a meeting with Obama that was reported as terse, and interpreted by many as a dressing down of the prime minister. Netanyahu later pulled out of Obama's Nuclear Security Summit, sending a deputy instead.
The State Department's assertion that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel depended on the pace of Mideast peace negotiations appeared to be the tipping point for Schumer.
“That is the dagger because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans – Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew – would feel that,” Schumer said. “So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, ‘If you don't retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.’”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs battled back in Friday's press briefing.
“We have an unwavering commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people,” Gibbs said. “We have said that from the beginning of this administration.”
“I don't think that it's a stretch to say we don't agree with what Sen. Schumer said in those remarks,” Gibbs added.
A recent Quinnipiac poll indicated the administration could be vulnerable to calls it is not being supportive enough to Israel.
Released last week, the poll showed 42 percent of respondents saying that Obama is not a strong supporter of Israel, compared with 34 percent who disagreed. Only 16 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of independents think the president is a strong supporter of Israel, while 53 percent of Democrats do.
Respondents also said by 57 to 13 percent that their sympathies lie with Israel, and 66 to 19 percent said that the commander in chief should be a strong supporter of the Jewish state.
Price, who was supposed to speak on an AIPAC panel but had to cancel because of the concurrent healthcare bill vote that Sunday, said that while there's always been strong bipartisan support in Congress for Israel, he's “heartened by Sen. Schumer's strong and accurate portrayal of what the administration's done” and hopes the muted comments he's heard in the House grow into a louder chorus.
Still, he said he'd be surprised if Democratic leadership attempted “to call the administration to account” on its Israel policy. “I would certainly welcome it and support it, but I'm not going to hold my breath,” he said.
Price called Obama's worldview “very, very dangerous” and added that the president has a “naivete of the dangers of the world.”
Obama may also find the bipartisan discontent that's growing over the speed and heft of Iran sanctions crossing over into the debate over his administration's stance toward Israel.
As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his nuclear program are viewed by many as a direct threat to the Jewish state, Israel may find itself deciding to take unilateral military action against the Islamic Republic. This would markedly increase pressure on the White House from Congress.