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Progressives welcome Biden’s tough talk to Netanyahu — but calls for action grow louder

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Joe Biden won some progressive praise with his recent tough talk on Benjamin Netanyahu, but liberal lawmakers’ demands that the president take action against Israel are only growing louder.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is being profoundly disrespectful not just to President Biden but to the United States,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “And I think that it is our responsibility to also protect the integrity of the United States.”

Biden said in a weekend interview that mass civilian casualties in Gaza was a “red line” for him, as Palestinians have seen tens of thousands of deaths during the Israel-Hamas war. POLITICO then reported that the U.S. would consider setting conditions on military aid to Israel, which has stalled in Congress, if the country proceeds with a large-scale invasion of Rafah. That’s been a demand from many Democrats for months.

Netanyahu was defiant in response to Biden’s comments, vowing to proceed with an offensive in Rafah. “You know what the red line is? That Oct. 7 doesn’t happen again,” the prime minster said.

Such comments have been panned by congressional progressives, who’ve been deeply skeptical of Netanyahu and his posturing with Biden for months. They’ve previously called for new leadership in Israel.

“We’re at the point now where words may not be enough. The president may have to take some action,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a leading progressive, said in an interview. “As somebody who’s a longtime supporter of Israel, what is happening in Gaza is beyond the pale by any measure, and we can’t turn a blind eye to that.”

“We all need to push back harder against the prime minister and remind him that US aid is available only to countries that follow international law,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed in a brief interview.

She added: “If the prime minister wants to go at it alone, he seems to be making that clear. … The prime minister is not serving the interests of the people of Israel. He is not making Israel safer.”

Beyond the foreign policy and moral consequences, some Democrats see a political imperative for Biden to respond to the concerns of young people and progressives frustrated with his handling of the Middle East conflict.

“I appreciate that the president is listening to many people in his base and is making it more clear that there are going to be consequences for Netanyahu to defy the United States,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). “He’s taking a tougher line on Netanyahu and responding to many of us.”

Biden was caught on a hot mic after his State of the Union address last week, vowing a “come to Jesus” meeting with the Israeli prime minister while speaking to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

A group of eight Democratic-aligned senators sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday demanding Netanyahu stop restricting humanitarian aid to Gaza or lose U.S. assistance.

Even more hawkish foreign policy Democrats are indicating fatigue with Netanyahu’s approach and treatment of Biden’s entreaties in the conflict.

“I could get back before Oct. 7 and I wasn’t a big fan of this government,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in an interview. “At this stage, it’s an issue of trying to get everybody on the same page.”

But progressives think Netanyahu is disrespecting Biden and want to keep the pressure up for a deescalation in the region.

“We’ve wanted a two-state solution for decades in this country, but Netanyahu does not if he thumbed his nose at the president,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told POLITICO. “We should support the Israeli people, always. But, Benjamin Netanyahu, maybe it’s time for a divorce.”