Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, says Netanyahu has ‘lost his way’

Sen. Chuck Schumer of Brooklyn on Thursday called for new elections in Israel, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “lost his way” — a major rebuke of the embattled conservative leader from one of Israel’s staunchest allies in Washington.

In a nuanced 41-minute speech on the Senate floor, Schumer stopped short of explicitly telling Israelis to vote Netanyahu out of power. But the senator offered a scathing assessment of the prime minister, warning that his stewardship of the Jewish state after the Oct. 7 attacks risks making the country a global “pariah,” threatening its very survival.

Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, said Netanyahu has led an “over the top” military operation in Gaza, where more than 30,000 have been reported dead and a famine threatens. Schumer argued the prime minister has put his own political survival ahead of his country’s interests.

“As a lifelong supporter of Israel, it has become clear to me that Netanyahu no longer fits the needs of Israel after Oct. 7,” Schumer said. “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 — a Jewish Park Slope liberal who has been the subject of large protests from American progressives over his backing of Israel — added that a new election in Israel is “the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government.”

The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, wrote on social media that “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,” Herzog wrote.

The speech comes as President Biden has slowly been ramping up criticism of Israel over the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, where Israel is seeking to stamp out Hamas. Earlier this month, Vice President Kamala Harris called for an immediate, temporary ceasefire in Gaza. The relationship between Biden and Netanyahu is deeply strained.

But Biden has not called for a leadership change in Israel.

A White House spokesman, John Kirby, told reporters: “We know Leader Schumer feels strongly about this, and we’ll certainly let him speak to it.”

“We’re going to stay focused on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself,” Kirby added. “And, of course, we’re still focused — laser focused — on trying to get a temporary ceasefire in place.”

Many liberal voters have expressed displeasure about American support for the Israeli war effort in Gaza by voting “uncommitted” on primary ballots in the Democratic primary elections. They have threatened to withhold their vote from Biden in his expected November general election rematch with former President Donald Trump.

Layla Elabed, a progressive Palestinian American activist in Michigan — where more than 100,000 voters selected “uncommitted” in the Democratic primary election — issued a statement Thursday saying that Schumer is “beginning to shift but far too slowly and with little substance for what actions Biden can take now.”

“How many children in Gaza will be killed by Israeli bombs before Schumer demands an end to U.S. weapons aid?” added Elabed, the sister of Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Republicans, meanwhile, defended Netanyahu.

“Israel is not a colony of America whose leaders serve at the pleasure of the party in power in Washington,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, said on the floor of the Senate. “Only Israel’s citizens should have a say in who runs their government.”

He said Democrats have an “anti-Israel” problem.

Still, Schumer has been full-throated in his support and admiration for the Israeli state. He said America’s bonds to the country are “unbreakable.”

He spoke at length Thursday about his concerns about growing anti-Jewish prejudice, and expressed concern that “many people, especially on the left, seem to acknowledge and even celebrate” a right to statehood for every group “but the Jews.”

“Jews have a human right to their own state,” he said.

At the same time, he said Netanyahu has made a grievous error by turning his back on any hope for a two-state solution in Israel.

“As the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in our government, and as a staunch defender of Israel, I rise today to say unequivocally: This is a grave mistake,” Schumer warned. “For Israel. For Palestinians. For the region and the world.”