Top Jewish politician in US strongly criticises Netanyahu and calls for Israel election

The most senior Jewish politician in the US has labelled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an obstacle to peace and urged him to call an election.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, who has long been a supporter of Israel, said on the Senate floor that Mr Netanyahu‘s government “no longer fits the needs” of the country and that its people “are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past”.

The Democrat said in his 45-minute speech: “As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may. But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice.”

Mr Schumer, who is the first Jewish majority leader in the Senate, called for “a fresh debate about the future of Israel after October 7 [Hamas attack],” and said: “In my opinion, that is best accomplished by holding an election.”

Israel’s next parliamentary elections are expected to take place in 2026 but could be sooner.

Israel-Hamas latest: Ex-IDF commander calls for government to be ‘overthrown’

The senator previously positioned himself as an ally of the Israeli government, but his strongly-worded address saw him accuse Mr Netanyahu of putting himself in coalition with far-right extremists.

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“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,” he said.

Benjamin Netanyahu. Pic: AP
Benjamin Netanyahu. Pic: AP

The senator’s unusually direct warning also saw him appear to call for US support for Israel to come with conditions.

“If extremists continue to unduly influence Israeli policy, then the administration should use tools at its disposal to make sure our support for Israel is aligned with our broader goal of peace and stability,” Mr Schumer added.

The democrat, who backs a two-state solution, criticised Palestinians who support Hamas and called for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to step down.

“For there to be any hope of peace in the future, Abbas must step down and be replaced by a new generation of Palestinian leaders who will work towards attaining peace with a Jewish state,” he said.

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Israel's ground offensive in Gaza continues
Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza continues

Israel reacts to Schumer’s address

A spokesperson for Mr Netanyahu’s office declined to comment “for now,” but his Likud party quickly said the country was not a banana republic and claimed its leader’s policies have wide public support.

A statement read: “Contrary to Schumer’s words, the Israeli public supports a total victory over Hamas, rejects any international dictates to establish a Palestinian terrorist state, and opposes the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.

“Senator Schumer is expected to respect Israel’s elected government and not undermine it. This is always true, and even more so in wartime.”

Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich said: “We expect the largest democracy in the world to respect Israeli democracy.”

Blunt language in response to Schumer’s comments

The first reaction has come in to the comments made by the majority leader of the US Senate, Chuck Schumer.

Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Herzog (who is the Israeli President’s brother) wrote on X:
“Israel is a sovereign democracy. It is unhelpful, all the more so as Israel is at war against the genocidal terror organization Hamas, to comment on the domestic political scene of a democratic ally. It is counterproductive to our common goals.”

Blunt language, given it came from a diplomat.

The White House has commented too.

The spokesman of the National Security Council, Admiral John Kirby, said the White House had been given advance notice Mr Schumer would make the comments.

“He did give our team advance notice… we did have advance notice that he was going to deliver those remarks,” Admiral Kirby said, adding: “This wasn’t about approval, or disapproval or editing in any way.

“We fully respect his right to make those remarks and to decide for himself what he’s going to say on the Senate floor. He obviously feels strongly about this. We understand and respect that.

“We’re going to stay focused on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself while doing everything that they can to avoid civilian casualties.”

Mr Schumer’s comments came as Joe Biden faces intense criticism from within his own party over Washington’s unconditional support for Israel, given the impact the Israel-Hamas conflict is having on Palestinian lives.

Israel launched its current military offensive in Gaza in the wake of Hamas’s 7 October attack and the number of Palestinians killed there is now more than 31,000, the Hamas-run health military has said.

A quarter of the remaining population is facing starvation, according to the United Nations.

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Onboard a Gaza aid airdrop plane

While continuing to supply weaponry to Israel, Mr Biden has pressured Mr Netanyahu to let aid into Gaza and began carrying out airdrops of supplies earlier this month.

Mr Biden last week confirmed that the US will soon establish a temporary port on the Gazan coast to increase the flow of aid to the region.

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