Israeli officials slam Schumer’s call for new election as ‘counterproductive’

Israeli officials hit back at a scathing speech by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called for new elections — as news outlets and commentators there questioned what it could mean for Israel’s relationship with Washington, its strongest ally.

As officials from various parties cautioned the United States about meddling in internal politics, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper described the Senate floor speech by one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress and the highest-ranking Jewish official in the United States as a “watershed” moment. One Israeli journalist called it an “earthquake.”

Likud, the political party led by Netanyahu, in a statement cautioned Schumer not to “undermine” Israel’s elected government. “Israel is not a banana republic, but an independent, proud democracy that elected Prime Minister Netanyahu,” it said. The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, on Thursday called the speech “counterproductive to our common goals” and said it was “unhelpful” to comment on domestic politics while Israel is at war with Hamas.

Schumer’s speech Thursday marked the clearest signal yet of mounting U.S. frustrations toward Netanyahu as Israel wages one of this century’s most destructive wars in Gaza and the Palestinian death toll mounts. Schumer called for “a new election once the war starts to wind down,” warning that Israel risks becoming an international “pariah” under the leadership of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader who has faced domestic pressure at home — and protests before and after the war.

Benny Gantz, a political rival of Netanyahu who is now a member of Israel’s war cabinet, called Schumer a “friend of Israel,” but still said the senator had “erred in his remarks.” He said “external intervention” in domestic affairs was “counter-productive and unacceptable.”

Schumer has said he felt “immense obligation” as a Jewish American to speak, and stressed that the outcome of an election would be up to Israelis.

As international calls for a cease-fire grow, President Biden, a strong supporter of Israel, has increasingly voiced frustration with Netanyahu. Biden in recent days warned that an Israeli invasion of Rafah, where much of Gaza’s population has already been forced to flee, would cross a “red line,” though he said, “I’m never going to leave Israel.”

While Biden has never publicly suggested that Israelis replace Netanyahu, he told MSNBC in an interview last week that the Israeli leader was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel.” Netanyahu has also been at odds with U.S. officials over his hampering of aid into Gaza and his rejection of finding a path to Palestinian statehood.

Earlier this week, a report released by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence said a U.S. intelligence assessment determined that Netanyahu’s leadership “may be in jeopardy,” along with the “viability” of his governing coalition that “pursued hardline policies on Palestinian and security issues.”

Netanyahu, who has brushed aside warnings of a spiraling crisis in Gaza, is under growing pressure, including from U.S. officials, to stave off a famine in the besieged Palestinian enclave and restore order. And the Israeli leader has been widely blamed at home since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 for security failures.

Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli diplomat and consul in New York, wrote that Schumer’s speech signaled “a new equation” from the U.S. administration: “Israel yes, Netanyahu no.”

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the speech was “proof that one by one, Netanyahu is losing Israel’s biggest supporters in the [United States],” and accused the prime minister of “causing heavy damage to the national effort to win the war.”

Yet it remains unclear how Schumer’s declaration could affect politics in Israel, where Netanyahu was growing unpopular well before this war — but where polls show wide public support for some of his wartime positions that have put him at odds with Washington.

As Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners threaten to upend the government if there’s a letup in the war, he also faces anger from the families of Israeli hostages urging a deal to pause the fighting in return for the release of those still held by Hamas in Gaza.

For Lior Amihai, executive director of Peace Now, an organization advocating a two-state solution, Schumer struck a chord with what he said “the majority of the public in Israel thinks and feels: that Netanyahu is acting out of personal interests and is led by nationalist extremists.”

When asked to comment on Schumer’s speech this week, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did not offer a direct response, saying instead that the White House was focused on “conversations about a hostage deal.”

“Mr. Schumer feels strongly, obviously strongly enough to make the comments that he did. I think we’re going to let him speak to his thought process here,” Kirby said.

The message from Schumer on Netanyahu stood in contrast to many congressional Republicans, several of whom criticized the senator’s pointed remarks. Democrats have increasingly said Israel has gone too far as its offensive in Gaza grinds on, displacing nearly 2 million people who have little access to food, water or medicine. Still, most members of the Democratic caucus voted last month to send billions more in aid to Israel — the world’s largest cumulative recipient of U.S. aid.

Schumer on Thursday backed the Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate a pause while saying he opposed a permanent cease-fire at this time.

After the speech, Schumer wrote on social media that the outcome of an election was for the Israeli public, not the United States, to decide.

“But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice,” Schumer said. “There needs to be a fresh debate about the future.”

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top