Schumer calls for new Israel election, says Netanyahu has 'lost his way

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday issued a call for new elections in Israel and heaped criticism on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the ongoing war with Hamas as part of a push for a two-state solution in the region.

Schumer delivered what he deemed a “major address” on the escalating situation in the region, headlined by his comments directed at Netanyahu, the polarizing Israeli leader. He pressed that Netanyahu has “lost his way,” pointing to the political and legal battles he has faced recently while also allowing that the off-and-on prime minister’s “highest priority is the security of Israel.”

“However, I also believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take the precedence over the best interests of Israel,” Schumer said, arguing that Netanyahu is currently in a coalition with “far-right extremists” and has been “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.” 

“As a lifelong supporter of Israel, it has become clear to me: The Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7,” Schumer added, referring to Hamas’s attack. “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.”

Prior to the speech, Schumer – the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history — had largely kept his powder dry on the topic as he attempted to balance his personal feelings on Israel and the rising concern among Senate Democrats and progressives who have become vocal critics of Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict.

That feeling burst open earlier in the week as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and seven Senate Democrats penned a letter calling on President Biden to halt giving weapons to Israel for the war until Israel nixes restrictions on U.S.-backed humanitarian aid going into Gaza. 

“We urge you to make it clear to the Netanyahu government that failure to immediately and dramatically expand humanitarian access and facilitate safe aid deliveries throughout Gaza will lead to serious consequences, as specified under existing U.S. law,” the group wrote.

Sanders and others have also called for future aid to Israel to be conditioned on whether the country is violating human rights and international accords.

Progressives have also been vocal in calls for a permanent cease-fire, which Schumer on Thursday argued would only give Hamas more time to plan and launch attacks. However, he did side with Biden’s push for a temporary one as he continued to hold out hope for a two-state solution.

The New York Democrat cited four key obstacles to that goal: Hamas and Palestinians who “support and tolerate” their efforts, radical right-wing Israelis, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. 

On the Israeli side, Schumer called for the country to consider its options for the future through a new election. 

“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, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government,” he said. “[H]olding a new election once the war starts to wind down would give Israelis an opportunity to express their vision for the post-war future.”

This is not the first major speech Schumer has delivered on Israel and its future. He delivered one in November to condemn the rise of anti-semitism and called on Democrats to condemn it.

Senate Democrats have indicated they are split over the possibility of arms sales to Israel if Netanyahu goes ahead with an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah, a southern Gaza city. Biden has called for the invasion to not go forward, labeling it a “red line” for the U.S. 

Biden told Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) following last week’s State of the Union address that he told Netanyahu that the two would have to “have a come-to-Jesus meeting” about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. Netanyahu responded by saying that the country would not be “getting off the gas.”

The war in Gaza began when Hamas-led militants raided southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and abducting around 250 others.

Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, has said that over 31,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7. The United Nations also says approximately a quarter of Gaza’s population is now starving.

–Updated at 10:53 a.m.

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