Chuck Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, criticizing Netanyahu’s leadership

WASHINGTON — In the most significant criticism by a U.S. leader against the Israeli government since its war with Hamas began, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday called for new elections in Israel to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S. ever, said in remarks on the Senate floor that “the Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after Oct. 7.”

“The world has changed — radically — since then, and the Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in what was billed as a major address.

Netanyahu has “lost his way,” Schumer continued, “by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel” and by indicating he isn’t interested in the formation of an independent Palestinian state, which has been a U.S. goal for decades. Schumer said Netanyahu has aligned himself with “far-right extremists” like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who he said are “pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

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

Schumer argued that Israel must make “course corrections” in its strategy against Hamas and make a better effort to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They “do not deserve to suffer for the sins of Hamas, and Israel as a moral obligation to do better,” he said. “The United States has an obligation to do better.”

More than 1,200 people died in Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, and an estimated 30,000 people in Gaza have died, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.

“Five months into this conflict, it is clear that Israelis need to take stock of the situation and ask, must we change course?” he said. “At this critical juncture, I believe a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel.”

Schumer, who was wearing a yellow ribbon pin on the Senate floor to honor hostages being held in Gaza, is a longtime staunch defender of Israel and its right to exist. He spoke about the plight of his Jewish ancestors in Europe and the “grave threats” Israel faces as it’s “surrounded by vicious enemies.”

Schumer expressed support for a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, as President Joe Biden has been pushing for, saying it “would allow for the return of hostages and humanitarian relief of suffering Palestinians.” He said he’s against a permanent cease-fire because it would only allow Hamas to “regroup and launch further attacks on Israeli civilians.”

“There can never be a two-state solution if Hamas has any significant power,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Schumer for his remarks, saying on the Senate floor afterward that it is “grotesque and hypocritical for Americans who hyperventilate about foreign interference in our own democracy to call for the removal of a democratically elected leader of Israel.”

House Republican leaders echoed McConnell at a news conference at their members’ annual retreat Thursday in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, was set to speak to lawmakers.

“This is not only highly inappropriate, it’s just plain wrong for an American leader to play such a divisive role in Israeli politics while our closest ally in the region is in an existential battle for its very survival,” said House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said the election the U.S. should be caring about is its own in November, not Israel’s. Schumer, he said, “owes an apology to the people of Israel.”

Herzog appeared to criticize Schumer on X later Thursday.

The Biden administration has faced intensifying calls to help facilitate a cease-fire and increase aid to Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

In his State of the Union address last week, Biden said he had directed the U.S. military to lead an “emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast.” He said it would be able to receive large ships that carry food, water, medicine and temporary shelters. Biden also recently authorized the U.S. to begin air-dropping humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Families of Americans still being held among the 130 hostages in Gaza attended the address. Some have expressed concerns to Schumer’s office that Netanyahu has not made the release of their loved ones a priority over the last five months, a source familiar with the matter said.

As he runs for re-election, Biden has faced anger from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, whose members have wanted him to put more pressure on Netanyahu, who has served as Israel’s prime minister continuously since December 2022 after the government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid lost its majority. Netanyahu had also led the government multiple times before, including from March 2009 to June 2021.

On Thursday morning, the Biden administration said it was sanctioning three extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank and two outposts in the territory. In early February, Biden also issued an executive order that targeted Jewish settlers in the West Bank who engaged in violence against Palestinians living in the region.

In response to Schumer, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday that the White House knows he feels strongly about the issue. Kirby said the administration is focused on ensuring Israel has the weapons it needs to defend itself “while doing everything that they can to avoid civilian casualties.”

“We’re still focused — laser-focused — on trying to get a temporary cease-fire in place so we can get the hostages out and get more aid” into Gaza, he added.

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