Rare critique

Gottheimer raises concerns about aspects of Israel’s military operation in Gaza

The New Jersey congressman is among Israel’s most stalwart defenders and has generally been reluctant to publicly air concerns about Israeli government moves

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) leaves a classified, closed-door briefing about Hamas' attack on Israel in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium on October 11, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), returning from a trip to Egypt and Qatar where he met with top hostage negotiators and U.S. officials last week, offered rare public concerns about Israel’s prosecution of its war in Gaza.

“I, of course, have concerns with aspects of how Israel has executed aspects of this war. I stressed these concerns to the prime minister and others in Israel,” Gottheimer said in a press call on Friday, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu, “and of course reiterated the critical need to expedite humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians and protect aid workers, particularly after the awful tragedy with the World Central Kitchen aid workers this week.”

Gottheimer is among Israel’s most stalwart defenders among House Democrats and has generally been reluctant to publicly air concerns about Israeli government moves. His public comments about the course of the war reflect the extent to which the WCK incident, in which seven aid workers were killed in an Israeli strike the IDF has since apologized for, has heightened concerns about the course of the war among Democrats.

The New Jersey congressman said he was pleased to see Israel launch an investigation and take initial steps to dismiss IDF officials involved in the strike, as well as open additional humanitarian corridors into Gaza.

“My heart breaks for all the families involved and I think there has to be strong accountability,” he continued. Gottheimer said he agrees with recent administration statements that Israeli “guardrails” are needed to prevent similar actions.

He added that additional humanitarian aid must be sent into Gaza, despite what he characterized as widespread Hamas theft — “if they’re going to steal a lot of humanitarian aid, you have to send in more humanitarian aid, need to allow for more to get into Gaza.”

Gottheimer, who previously led a letter threatening “fast track legislative options” targeting Qatar unless the remaining hostages were promptly released, also appeared to take a more generous tone toward the Qatari government’s efforts following his trip. 

“I have said consistently that we have to keep pressure on the Qataris to make sure that they are actively engaged in the negotiations,” he said. “My takeaway is that they are actively engaged, working around the clock. They feel the responsibility of that role and it’s clear that they’re taking that responsibility very seriously. I saw how actively engaged they were.”

Gottheimer said he stressed in his conversations that freeing the hostages must be the priority, and emphasized the need to rush additional aid into Gaza and “significantly diminish” Hamas. 

He told reporters that a hostage deal appears “within reach.”

Asked about recent public comments by the administration warning of policy changes toward Israel unless it took steps to expand humanitarian aid, Gottheimer did not directly criticize the administration but said, “you want to always be cautious about doing anything to undermine the Israelis and empower Hamas… it’s really important that all actions and decisions keep that in mind.”

He also said, responding to the administration’s call on Netanyahu to further empower Israeli negotiators to reach a deal — which some read as a call for Israel to make additional concessions — that he believes all sides are “fully engaged” and “working around the clock.” 

“Whether any of the parties are willing to accept all of the terms of what’s being demanded from one side or the other, that’s a different part of the conversation, but my sense was they’re all fully engaged,” he continued.

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