Top Democrat Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, says Netanyahu has 'lost his way'

Schumer is the first Jewish majority leader in the Senate

US-Israel Netanyahu Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer | AP

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Israel to hold new elections, saying he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his way in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and a growing humanitarian crisis there.

Schumer, the first Jewish majority leader in the Senate and the highest-ranking Jewish official in the US, will strongly criticize Netanyahu in a lengthy speech on Thursday morning on the Senate floor. In prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press, Schumer says the prime minister has put himself in a coalition of far-right extremists and as a result, 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 will say.

The speech comes as an increasing number of Democrats have pushed back against Israel and as President Joe Biden has stepped up public pressure on Netanyahu's government, warning that he needs to pay more attention to the civilian death toll in Gaza.

The US this month began airdrops of badly needed humanitarian aid and announced it will establish a temporary pier to get more assistance into Gaza via sea.

Schumer has so far positioned himself as a strong ally of the Israeli government, visiting the country just days after the brutal October 7 attack by Hamas and giving a lengthy speech on the Senate floor in December decrying brazen and widespread antisemitism the likes of which we haven't seen in generations in this country, if ever."

But he will say on the Senate floor Thursday that the Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past.

Schumer says Netanyahu, who has long opposed Palestinian statehood, is one of several obstacles in the way of the two-state solution pushed by the United States.

He is also blaming right-wing Israelis, Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Until they are all removed from the equation, he says, there will never be peace in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank.

Schumer says the United States cannot dictate the outcome of an election in Israel, but a new election 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.

It is unclear how Schumer's unusually direct call will be received in Israel. The next parliamentary elections are expected in 2026 but could be held before then.

Many Israelis hold Netanyahu responsible for failing to stop the October 7 cross-border raid by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and his popularity appears to have taken a hit as a result.

US priorities in the region have increasingly been hampered by Netanyahu's Cabinet, which is dominated by ultranationalists. The far-right Cabinet members share Netanyahu's opposition to Palestinian statehood and other aims that successive US administrations have seen as essential to resolving Palestinian-Israeli conflicts long-term.

In a hot-mic moment while speaking to lawmakers after his State of the Union address, Biden promised a come to Jesus moment with Netanyahu.

And Vice President Kamala Harris, Schumer and other lawmakers met last week in Washington with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's War Cabinet and a far more popular rival of Netanyahu a visit that drew a rebuke from the Israeli prime minister.

Gantz joined Netanyahu's government in the War Cabinet soon after the Hamas attacks. But Gantz is expected to leave the government once the heaviest fighting subsides, signalling the period of national unity has ended. A return to mass demonstrations could ramp up pressure on Netanyahu's deeply unpopular coalition to hold early elections.

Schumer said that if Israel tightens its control over Gaza and the West Bank and creates a de facto single state, then there should be no reasonable expectation that Hamas and their allies will lay down arms. It could mean constant war, he said.

As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may, Schumer said. But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice. 


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