Schumer Urges New Israeli Elections, Calling Netanyahu an Obstacle to Peace With Palestinians

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Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog denounced individuals commenting on the electoral politics of an allied country.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor on Thursday morning to deliver a speech in which he cast doubt on the current Israeli administration and urged for new elections in the country.

The top Congressional Democrat said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “lost his way” and become one of four “major obstacles” toward achieving peace in the region, with the other obstacles to peace being Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and “radical right-wing Israelis” across the current Israeli government and society. He said would focus on progress toward a two-state solution to the Israel–Hamas conflict.

Mr. Schumer, the first Jewish Senate majority leader and the highest-ranking Jewish official in the United States, said he’s known Mr. Netanyahu “a very long time” and despite their political disagreements insisted he will “always respect” Mr. Netanyahu’s past service in the Israeli military, but indicated he could no longer accept Mr. Netanyahu’s political leadership.

“I believe in his heart his highest priority is the security of Israel. However, I also believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Schumer specifically faulted Mr. Netanyahu for forming a governing coalition with Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, whom he described as “far-right extremists.” Mr. Schumer also accused the Netanyahu government of weakening Israel’s political and moral standing “through attempts to co-opt the judiciary” of Israel.

The Netanyahu-led Israeli government is currently at war with Hamas, a conflict with the U.S.-designated terrorist group that began after its members infiltrated southern Israel and carried out widespread attacks on Oct. 7, 2023. More than 1,100 people were killed and thousands more were injured across southern Israel during the Oct. 7 attack.

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Mr. Schumer said Mr. Netanyahu showed little interest in “doing the courageous and visionary work required to pave the way for peace” even before the current Israel–Hamas conflict. Mr. Schumer said since the start of the war, and as a result of his political alliance with Mr. Smotrich and Mr. Ben Gvir, the Israeli prime minister has been too tolerant of civilian casualties in the current fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Schumer warned that civilian deaths resulting from the Gaza conflict are “pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

“Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah,” he added.

Mr. Schumer’s comments come as some U.S. lawmakers, primarily in the Democratic Party, have called for a ceasefire in the current Gaza conflict and sought to limit U.S. military aid for Israel.

Schumer Calls for New Israeli Election

Mr. Schumer said it would be a “real meaningful step forward” if Mr. Netanyahu cut ties with Mr. Smotrich and Mr. Ben Gvir or took greater efforts to avoid civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip, but Mr. Schumer expressed doubt that the Israeli prime minister would take such steps. He instead suggested a new Israeli election presents the best path forward.

“I believe that holding a new election once the war starts to wind down would give Israelis an opportunity to express their vision for the postwar future,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Netanyahu served as prime minister of Israel across five government coalitions from 2009 to 2021. His fifth coalition lasted just over a year, from May 2020 to June 2021, after which he lost the prime ministership. Mr. Netanyahu returned to the office in December 2022. The Netanyahu government faced protests throughout Israel last summer over judicial reforms favored by his administration. Some polling before Oct. 7 indicated Mr. Netanyahu was losing support with the Israeli public.

Mr. Schumer said he believes a majority of the Israeli public will favor a change in leadership.Mr. Schumer said the United States cannot dictate the outcome of an Israeli election, but said if Mr. Netanyahu does remain in power and then “continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing U.S. standards” then the United States will “have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change the present course.”

Pushback at Home and Abroad

Mr. Schumer’s comments about the Israeli prime minister were not without criticism.

“The Jewish state of Israel deserves an ally that acts like one,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in his own Senate floor remarks immediately following Mr. Schumer.

Mr. McConnell offered a narrower view of the obstacles to peace: “Genocidal terrorists like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad” and “corrupt leaders of the Palestinian Authority who have repeatedly, repeatedly rejected deals from multiple Israeli governments.”

“It is grotesque and hypocritical for Americans who hyperventilate about foreign interference in our own democracy to call for the removal of the democratically elected leader of Israel,“ Mr. McConnell continued. ”This is unprecedented. We should not treat fellow democracies this way at all.”

Mr. McConnell further argued that criticisms arising from the political left about the current Gaza conflict are not about opposition to Mr. Netanyahu’s specific policies but about opposition to Israel itself.

“Make no mistake—the Democratic Party doesn’t have an anti-Bibi problem. It has an anti-Israel problem,” Mr. McConnell said.

Bibi is Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog also issued a statement following Mr. Schumer’s Thursday speech, denouncing individuals commenting on the electoral politics of an allied country.

“Israel is a sovereign democracy. It is unhelpful, all the more so as Israel is at war against the genocidal terror organization Hamas, to comment on the domestic political scene of a democratic ally. It is counterproductive to our common goals,” Mr. Herzog said in an X post, without directly naming Mr. Schumer as the target of his comments.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.



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