Chuck Schumer: US senator calls for Israel elections, saying Netanyahu has lost his way

Senate Majority Leader warns Israel is becoming an international pariah under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. AP Photo
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US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday called for Israel to hold new elections, warning that Washington would have “no choice” but to act if the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not change course.

In a sweeping nearly hour-long speech on the Senate floor, the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress, said Mr Netanyahu “has lost his way” and suggested his government's actions on Gaza have turned Israel into a “pariah opposed by the rest of the world”.

“Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, to preserve Israel's credibility on the world stage and to work towards a two-state solution,” Mr Schumer said.

“I believe a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel.”

Israel's ambassador to Washington Michael Herzog said in a statement that it was "unhelpful, all the more so as Israel is at war against the genocidal terror organisation Hamas, to comment on the domestic political scene of a democratic ally".

"It is counterproductive to our common goals," Mr Herzog added on X after Mr Schumer's speech.

The call for change marks a significant deepening of recent cracks that have developed in Washington's historically ironclad support for Israel.

The US has been an outlier in its unwillingness to challenge its ally over the war in Gaza – which has killed more than 31,300 Palestinians, according to local health officials – and has questioned the legitimacy of accusations of human rights abuse and genocide allegedly perpetrated by Israel.

Mr Schumer said the US would have “no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage” if the right-wing coalition government continues its current course.

The speech came as President Joe Biden's administration issued new sanctions on two Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank, which progressive Jewish-American groups described as “hugely consequential”.

The White House on Thursday said the Majority Leader gave the Biden administration "advance notice that he was going to deliver those remarks".

"We fully respect his right to make those remarks and to decide for himself what he's going to say on the Senate floor," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The Senate majority leader also gave a point-by-point break down in his support for Zionism and reaffirmed his position that Hamas must be eliminated.

But he centred a large portion of the speech on calling out “radical right-wing Israelis in government and society”, including ultranationalist ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

“There's a nastiness to what ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir believe, and how they use their positions of authority and influence and eagerness to inflame and provoke, that is profoundly irresponsible and self-destructive,” Mr Schumer said.

The veteran senator has used his career on Capitol Hill to become one of the strongest advocates of the US-Israel relationship and was among the first officials to lead a delegation to Israel in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attacks that launched the war in Gaza.

He has also led on US engagements with families of Israeli-Americans held hostage by Hamas, who have been pressuring Washington to challenge Mr Netanyahu's government.

Liz Hirsh Naftali, the aunt of returned hostage Abigail Mor Edan, this year told Mr Schumer and other senators that the “hold-up” for the return of Israeli hostages “is with the Netanyahu government”.

“The lack of action to bring home these loved ones clearly demonstrates to us that he wants to keep this war going to remain an office,” she said at a press conference on Capitol Hill in January.

Updated: March 15, 2024, 6:26 AM