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Senate Majority Leader Schumer calls for new elections in Israel


WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Israel to hold new elections on Thursday, saying he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “lost his way” and is an obstacle to peace in the region amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Schumer, the first Jewish majority leader in the Senate and the most senior Jewish official in the United States, harshly criticized Netanyahu in a 40-minute speech to the Senate on Thursday morning. Schumer said the prime minister had inserted himself into a coalition of right-wing extremists and “as a result, he has been more than willing to tolerate civilian deaths in Gaza, which has pushed support for Israel around the world to historic lows.”

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

The high-profile warning comes as a growing number of Democrats push back against Israel and President Joe Biden increases public pressure on Netanyahu’s government, arguing that it should pay more attention to civilian deaths in Gaza during Israeli bombardment. . The United States began airdropping much-needed humanitarian aid this month and announced it would build a temporary dock to deliver more aid to Gaza by sea.

Schumer has thus far positioned himself as a strong ally of the Israeli government; He visited the country just days after Hamas’ brutal attack on October 7, and in December gave a long speech to the Senate denouncing “brazen and widespread anti-Semitism”. “We haven’t seen it in this country for generations, in fact we haven’t seen it at all.”

But in a speech to the Senate on Thursday, he said that “the Israeli people are currently oppressed by a vision of governance that is stuck in the past.”

Schumer says Netanyahu, who has long opposed a Palestinian state, is one of the many obstacles to the two-state solution imposed by the United States. Schumer said Netanyahu “lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over Israel’s interests.”

The majority leader also blames right-wing Israelis, Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Unless all of these are removed from the equation, Schumer said, “There will never be peace in Israel, in Gaza, and in the West Bank.”

Schumer said the United States cannot dictate the outcome of an election in Israel, but “at a time when so many Israelis are voting, a new election is the only way to allow a healthy and open decision-making process about Israel’s future.” “They have lost confidence in the vision and direction of their government.”

At the White House, national security spokesman John Kirby declined to weigh in on Schumer’s remarks and said the White House was most focused on achieving a temporary ceasefire.

“We know Leader Schumer feels strongly about this issue, and we will certainly allow him to speak on this issue and his comments,” Kirby said. “We will focus on ensuring Israel has everything it needs to defend itself, while doing everything they can to prevent civilian casualties.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog called the speech “detrimental to our common goals.”

“Israel is a sovereign democracy,” Herzog posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “At a time when Israel is at war against the genocidal terrorist organization Hamas, it is useless to comment on a democratic ally on the domestic political stage.”

The speech also sparked swift retaliation from Republicans. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor immediately after Schumer’s speech that “Israel deserves an ally that behaves that way” and that foreign observers “should refrain from weighing in.”

McConnell said the Democratic Party has an anti-Israel problem. “We either respect their decisions or we don’t respect their democracy,” he said.

And at the House GOP caucus in West Virginia, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., called Schumer’s speech “inappropriate.”

“It is absolutely wrong for an American leader to play such a divisive role in Israeli politics when our closest ally in the region is engaged in an existential struggle for survival,” the Republican speaker said.

Netanyahu has long had a cordial relationship with Republicans in the United States; most notably his 2015 speech to a joint session of Congress at the invitation of GOP lawmakers to try to undermine former President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran. The move infuriated Obama administration officials, who saw it as an end to Obama’s presidential authority and an unacceptably deep intrusion into US politics and foreign policy.

Just this week, Netanyahu was invited to speak to Republican senators at a party meeting. But Herzog replaced him due to last-minute scheduling issues, according to a person familiar with the closed-door meeting.

It is unclear how Schumer’s unusually direct call will be received in Israel, where the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2026. Many Israelis blame Netanyahu for failing to stop Hamas’ cross-border raid on October 7 that killed 1,200 people. mostly civilians, and its popularity seems to have taken a hit as a result.

Protesters calling for early elections in Israel argue that Netanyahu makes wartime decisions based on keeping his right-wing coalition intact rather than Israel’s interests. And they say he is jeopardizing Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States by rejecting a U.S. proposal for a post-war vision for Gaza in a bid to appease far-right members of his government.

U.S. priorities in the region are increasingly being thwarted by far-right members of Netanyahu’s cabinet who share his opposition to a Palestinian state and other goals that successive U.S. administrations have deemed necessary to resolve Palestinian-Israeli conflicts in the long term.

In a hot mic moment while speaking to lawmakers after the State of the Union address, Biden vowed to “come to Jesus” with Netanyahu.

Vice President Kamala Harris, Schumer and other lawmakers met in Washington last week with Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli War Cabinet and Netanyahu’s much more popular rival; this visit prompted a rebuke from the Israeli prime minister.

Gantz joined the Netanyahu government in the War Cabinet immediately after the Hamas attacks. But he is expected to leave the government once the fiercest fighting is over, signaling that the era of national unity is over. A return to mass demonstrations could increase pressure on Netanyahu’s unpopular coalition to call early elections.

Schumer said that as the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States, he felt an obligation to make that clear. He said his surname derives from the Hebrew word Shomer, or “protector.”

“I also feel very strongly about my responsibility as Shomer Yisroel, the protector of the People of Israel,” he said.

Schumer said there should be no reasonable expectation that Hamas and its allies would disarm if Israel tightens its control over Gaza and the West Bank and creates “a de facto single state.” He said this could mean permanent war.

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let it go,” Schumer said. But what is important is that Israelis are given a choice.”

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Amelia Thomson DeVeaux and Lisa Mascaro in Washington, Stephen Groves in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, and Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this report.


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