President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Netanyahu to Trump: Let’s vanquish ‘militant Islam’


WASHINGTON (JTA) – Echoing the language favored by President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told AIPAC that Israel would work with the United States to defeat the “forces of militant Islam.”

“We must be sure that the forces of militant Islam are defeated,” Netanyahu said in a video address Monday morning to the Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.  “I’m confident the United States and Israel will stand together shoulder to shoulder to ensure light triumphs over darkness.”

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, drew criticism from Republicans and Trump for not naming Islam as an element in the threat faced by the United States in the Middle East and domestically. Trump, in turn, has drawn criticism for unnecessarily alienating moderate Muslims for emphasizing Islam in phrases like “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Netanyahu has made clear his preference for Trump over Obama and he referred in his remarks to his meeting with Trump last month in Washington.

“As you know I had an excellent, warm meeting with President Trump,” he said. “I want to thank the president for his strong support for Israel.”

He praised Trump’s envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, for “standing up for what’s right” at the body. The Obama administration, in its final days, for the first time allowed through an anti-settlements resolution on the U.N. Security Council, leading to openly bitter rebukes from Israeli officials.

Netanyahu intertwined the threat Israel perceives from Iran and its potential for acquiring a nuclear weapon with the threat from the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Trump’s focus has been the Islamic threat. Despite his campaign rhetoric deriding the deal Obama reached with Iran trading sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback, he has barely touched the issue as president.

Defeating militant Islam, Netanyahu said at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering, “means confronting Iran’s aggression in the region and around the world. It means utterly vanquishing ISIS.”

Netanyahu sounded amenable to Trump’s bid to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and extend it to a broader peace deal, although he reiterated familiar demands, including that the Palestinian Authority end incitement, stop payments to families of killed or jailed terrorists, and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

He also extended a “warm” welcome to David Friedman, confirmed last week as ambassador to Israel in a mostly party-line vote. Democrats opposed Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, because of his deep philanthropic investment in the settlements and  his demeaning broadsides against liberal Jews, which he said he regrets.

Netanyahu alluded to Friedman’s declaration last year, when Trump nominated him, that he hoped to serve as ambassador in Jerusalem. Trump, who as a candidate pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, has retreated from the promise as president and now says he is considering it.

“David, I look forward to welcoming you warmly to Israel and especially to Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.