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Calling Netanyahu 'obstacle to peace,' US Senate Majority Leader Schumer says Israel should hold new elections

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a press conference following the weekly Senate caucus luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 12, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Craig Hudson)

In his speech criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for Israel to hold new elections, calling Netanyahu an “obstacle to peace” in the region.

“The Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 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 said from the Senate floor.

“Netanyahu has lost his way, putting himself in coalition with far-right extremists like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir,” the senator continued.

The Israeli leader “has all too frequently bowed to the demands of extremists” and has let “his political survival take precedence over the best interests of Israel,” he added.

Schumer criticized the Israeli prime minister, saying he has been “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

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

The Senate majority leader also warned that the U.S. would become more involved in Israeli policy after the war if Netanyahu remains in power.

“If Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current coalition remains in power after the war begins to wind down and continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing US standards for assistance, 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,” Schumer said.

The stinging remarks come amid a deepening rift between Washington and Jerusalem regarding the ongoing war in Gaza. 

Before criticizing Netanyahu’s leadership, Schumer stressed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself and pushed back against international criticism of Jerusalem’s war effort, saying “it too often ignored Hamas’s crimes and its use of Gaza civilians as human shields.”

Still, he described Netanyahu as one of four major obstacles to peace, along with Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and radical right-wing Israelis.

Schumer stated: “There will never be peace in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank until they are all removed.”

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may. But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice. There needs to be a fresh debate about the future of Israel after October 7,” he said.

Following the speech, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) responded, reaffirming its commitment to stand with Israel in its ongoing battle with Hamas and reinforcing Israel’s sovereignty in electoral matters. 

"Israel is an independent democracy that decides for itself when elections are held and chooses its own leaders," an AIPAC representative said in response to Schumer's remarks. The organization emphasized the need for America to continue supporting Israel and supplying the necessary resources to defend itself against terrorism.

In contrast to Schumer’s remarks, AIPAC placed responsibility for the current conflict solely on Hamas.

"Hamas bears sole responsibility for this conflict," AIPAC said, expressing hope for a safer future in the Middle East through Israel's goal to dismantle Hamas.

Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, praised Senator Schumer's stance on Israeli elections, suggesting that his position represents the opinion of many American Jews. Soifer commended Schumer for “demonstrating moral clarity, conviction, and leadership in addressing concerns about Israel's future as a secure, Jewish and democratic state.”

"He said what the overwhelming majority of American Jews are thinking," Soifer wrote on 𝕏. 

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said Schumer's speech was evidence of waning support for Netanyahu. Lapid asserted that Netanyahu's policies and actions were alienating Israel's key supporters, including influential figures like Schumer.

"Netanyahu is causing significant damage to the national effort to win the war and maintain Israel’s security," Lapid said, suggesting that Schumer's remarks reflected growing dissatisfaction with Netanyahu's leadership.

Responding to Schumer's call for elections in Israel, Netanyahu's Likud party shot back, asserting that Israel “is an independent and proud democracy that elected Prime Minister Netanyahu, not a banana republic.” The party expressed full support for Netanyahu's leadership and cited widespread support for his policies among the Israeli public.

Likud accused Schumer of undermining Israel's elected government with his remarks and urged him to respect Israel's sovereignty, particularly during times of conflict.

The Likud said in a statement: “Prime Minister Netanyahu leads a determined policy that is supported by a huge majority of the people.”

“Contrary to Schumer’s words, the Israeli public supports a complete victory over Hamas, rejects any international dictates to establish a Palestinian terrorist state, and opposes the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza,” the party added.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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