Top US senator slams Netanyahu, demands elections

Pressure is mounting both on the Biden administration and the coalition government in Israel to bring about change which can halt the current genocide being carried out by Israel.

Majority Leader of the US Senate Chuck Schumer made a speech on the Senate floor on March 14th, criticising “major obstacle to peace” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling for new elections in Israel.

Schumer is the highest-ranking elected Jewish-American in history. “I speak for myself, but I also speak for so many mainstream Jewish Americans,” he said, “a silent majority whose nuanced views on the matter have never been represented in this country’s discussions with the war in Gaza.”

The timing of Schumer’s condemnation of Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza aligns with increasing pressure from voters. Pro-Palestinian protesters continue to demonstrate across the US, many accusing Biden of participating in a “genocide.”

On March 12th, a group of Democratic senators headed by Bernie Sanders, Christ Van Hollen, and Jeff Merkley, urged Biden to halt the US’s military support of Israel. “The United States should not provide military assistance to any country that interferes with U.S. humanitarian assistance,” the letter wrote. 

READ: US and France slam Israel’s Gaza settlement idea

In an MSNBC interview on March 9th, Biden declared Rafah “a red line.” “The defence of Israel is still critical,” he said, “so there’s no red line I’m going to cut off all weapons.”

Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Netanyahu is the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister. “Israel has the right to choose its own leaders,” said Schumer, “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,” said Schumer, adding that “Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

Schumer himself visited Tel Aviv shortly after the October 7th attacks, where he met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog alongside other senators to “[emphasise] the cross-party support for the State of Israel,” in a statement from Israel’s Government Press Office issued on October 15th. 

Schumer’s comments received split responses from other political figures. Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz issued a statement promptly after Schumer’s address, slamming him for doing “unbelievable damage” to the “US-Israel relationship.” 

READ: Jordan’s King heads to DC to tackle Biden on Gaza

Other Republicans in Congress were just as critical. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the speech “grotesque and hypocritical” and House Speaker Mike Johnson denounced what he called a “highly inappropriate” intervention in a press conference at the House GOP retreat.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party responded to Schumer’s remarks in a statement promptly after, stating that “Israel is not a banana republic, but an independent and proud democracy that elected Prime Minister Netanyahu.” 

“A senator is expected to respect Israel’s elected government and not undermine it,” the statement added. “This is always true, and even more so in wartime.”

The Israeli Ambassador to the US Micheal Herzog took to X on the same day, calling Shumer’s comments “unhelpful.” “It is counterproductive to our common goals,” he wrote. 

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Schumer had notified the White House of what he planned to say, adding that the administration fully respected his right to speak out.

Though State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller still distanced the federal government from Schumer’s comments, making clear that the senator “speaks for himself.”

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