April 8, 2019 11:02 am

Beto O’Rourke calls Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu ‘racist’

WATCH: Beto O'Rourke calls Israeli PM Netanyahu 'racist'


U.S. presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke offered harsh words for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday night, calling him “racist” and a threat to peace in the Middle East.

O’Rourke, a Democrat from Texas, made the comments as he campaigned for the party’s nomination for president at the University of Iowa.

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“The U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet,” O’Rourke said.

“And 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.”

Netanyahu is facing an election in Israel, and O’Rourke listed some of the statements he made while campaigning as examples, including warning Israelis about “Arabs coming to the polls” and that he sided with a far-right party in Israel to help him stay in power.

O’Rourke also said Netanyahu “wants to defy any prospect for peace” because of his threat to annex the West Bank.

WATCH: Netanyahu promises to annex West Bank Jewish settlements if re-elected

“I don’t think Benjamin Netanyahu represents the true will of the Israeli people, or the best interests of the U.S.-Israel relationship, or any path to peace for the people of the Palestinian Authority, the Gaza strip and the State of Israel,” O’Rourke continued.

O’Rourke isn’t the first Democrat to criticize Israel in recent weeks. Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of New York recently was criticized for talking about lobbying by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

READ MORE: When is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic?

Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have seized on the controversy to paint the Democrats as the “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” party, while backing Netanyahu in the election.

Over the weekend, Trump spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, saying a Democratic victory in 2020 could “leave Israel out there.”

READ MORE: White House won’t say whether Trump actually thinks Democrats hate Jewish people

He also referred to Netanyahu as “your prime minister,” prompting some criticism from the Jewish community.

“Mr President, the prime minister of Israel is the leader of his (or her) country, not ours. Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry,” the American Jewish Committee wrote on Twitter.

WATCH: Beto O’Rourke asked out to prom during Iowa meet-and-greet

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