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SC's Graham says Trump's swipes at Netanyahu amid Israel-Hamas war 'not helpful'

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., far right, speaks with various evangelical leaders about support for Israel on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in Columbia, S.C.
Maayan Schechter
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., far right, speaks with various evangelical leaders about support for Israel on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in Columbia, S.C.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham met with South Carolina evangelical leaders Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in support of Israel.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday that now is the time to stand behind Israel in a message to Americans, Israel and South Carolinians.

But the message also was in part to Graham's ally, former President Donald Trump, who's received condemnation for his recent remark that Iran-backed militia group Hezbollah is "very smart" and for his recent swipes at Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

"What I would recommend to President Trump, talk about what you did when you were president," Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Friday, referring to Trump's work on the Abraham Accords, bilateral agreements with a goal to normalize Israeli-Arab relations.

Criticizing Netanyahu now is "not helpful," added Graham, who declined to predict whether Netanyahu has a political future after Hamas militants last weekend killed more than 1,000 people, most of whom are Israelis, and injured thousands more.

The White House said Thursday that 27 Americans are part of the death toll.

Another 14 are unaccounted for.

"What happened will be the subject of discussion in Israel. How did we miss it? These things will play out over time in Israel," said Graham, who said he's known Netanyahu for 20 years. "Now's the time to be unequivocal and, without apology, to stand with Israel. Bibi is the prime minister. Biden's the president. I'm behind both of them."

Graham's comments with reporters followed a meeting with various evangelical leaders in South Carolina at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce building downtown.

Chad Connelly, a former chairman of the state GOP who met with Graham Friday, said now is the time for everyone, especially Christians, to stand with Israel.

Connelly is the founder of Faith Wins, which according to its website, is "dedicated to educating, activating and mobilizing faith leaders, helping them leverage their influence and impact within the governmental and political arena."

"This is unbelievable hatred and ugliness and Israel," Connelly said.

Graham said Friday he plans to visit Israel soon.

"They want rage, I want prayer. They seek destruction, we seek peace. They (Hamas) seek a one-state solution, ... the destruction of Israel, I seek a world where Palestinians can live in dignity and in peace with Israel," Graham said.

More than 1,700 Palestinians have died since the start of the war, according to reports.

Thousands more have been injured after Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza.

On Friday, the Israeli government asked civilians in northern Gaza, roughly 1 million people, to evacuate and head south as Israel readied to launch a ground invasion.

The United Nations has called the evacuations "impossible," given Gaza is so densely populated.

"I would like to find ways to protect the Palestinian population. I would like to find humanitarian corridors. I would like to assist in moving civilians out of target areas," Graham responded, when asked whether he was concerned about the orders.

"But Hamas is the player here. They're not going to let people move," Graham said.

He added, "There are no good options for Israel. There will be Palestinians (who) die as a result of this who are truly innocent. I blame Hamas, not Israel."

Graham signaled he'd like Congress to respond and help Israel, on top of tackle a budget and continue support for Ukraine.

However, that will take the support of the U.S. House of Representatives — a body which still does not have a speaker.

"We need a speaker, sooner rather than later. I'll let them work it out. I know there's a lot of issues in the House," Graham said. "I'm just praying and urging our House Republican colleagues to find somebody, get behind them soon so we can protect our country. Chaos in America leads to the bad guys being stronger."

Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) is a news reporter with South Carolina Public Radio and ETV. She worked at South Carolina newspapers for a decade, previously working as a reporter and then editor of The State’s S.C. State House and politics team, and as a reporter at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013.