for the record

Menendez shoots down concerns that he’s shifted on Israel

The pro-Israel stalwart drew attention last month for criticizing an Israeli strike on a building that housed an Associated Press office and others

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Bob Menendez, (D-N.J.) leaves the Capitol after a vote on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who drew attention last month for his criticism of Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip, brushed off recent speculation that he had shifted his position on Israel during last month’s conflict.

The New Jersey senator — who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has long been viewed as a pro-Israel stalwart — said in a statement in mid-May that he was “deeply troubled” by an Israeli strike on a Gaza building containing offices of the Associated Press and other international media organizations, as well as the deaths of “innocent civilians in Gaza.” Menendez’s comments raised concerns from Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists, and led to speculation from the left flank of his party that he was softening his support for Israel.

Speaking to Jewish Insider on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Menendez pushed back on that notion.

“As I’ve told [Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists], they forgot about the statement I put out at the beginning of the conflict, which cited unequivocally Israel’s right to defend itself and Hamas as a terrorist organization,” he said. “And they forgot about the second line of the second statement that they’re concerned about, which once again reiterated those two principles, but that went on to say that we were concerned about the attack on the AP building, and the strike on the refugee camp that created loss of human life. I think we should all regret the loss of human life, whether it’s Israeli or Palestinian.”

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. Gilad Erdan said last week that Hamas was using the building in an attempt to disrupt the Iron Dome missile defense system, and that the Israeli military would have had to conduct a ground invasion if not for the airstrike. 

Menendez told JI he discussed Erdan’s justification for the strike in a June 10 sit-down with the ambassador. “It’s the statement the ambassador made. I didn’t get any proof of that,” the New Jersey senator said.

“What I said to the ambassador [is it] would have been nice to have had that explanation the day of or the day after the attack. [It] would have made things far more clear and understandable, and he agreed,” Menendez continued. “Had we known about the AP the day of or the day after with that explanation we would have been far better off.”

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