Defending democracy? Chuck Schumer calls for new elections in Israel

 March 15, 2024

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) called for a new government in Israel in a shocking speech from the Senate floor Thursday.

It was a remarkable message for the highest-ranking Jewish official in the United States to deliver, and a sign of a deepening rift in world politics.

Democrats have often criticized Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "far-right" and that criticism has only grown louder over Israel's war with Hamas, which has led to the deaths of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.

Joe Biden has held to the so-called two-state solution as the only satisfactory end to the conflict, but Netanyahu has rejected calls for Palestinian sovereignty as a threat to Israel's existence.

Schumer's extraordinary demand

In his remarks Thursday, Schumer said that Netanyahu has become a threat to peace in the region.

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," Schumer claimed.

The comments were laden with irony, as Democrats have made defending "democracy" at home and abroad into a major political theme. Israel's government swiftly shot back, accusing Schumer of meddling in the affairs of an independent nation.

“Israel is a sovereign democracy,” Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog posted on X. “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.”

Despite his criticism, Schumer said he wants what is best for Israel, warning it would become a "pariah" without a new approach.

Biden reacts

Speaking from the White House on Friday, Biden, who just last week said he would have a "come to Jesus" talk with Netanyahu, called Schumer's statement "a good speech" and said he expressed concerns "shared not only by him, but by many Americans."

Biden is at least partly motivated by domestic politics, with anger simmering on the American left over his continued provision of military aid to Israel.

While such support has gone unquestioned for decades, Schumer, in a remarkable shift, issued the threat of using U.S. aid as "leverage."

Few Democrats have endorsed Schumer's message without qualification, but then again, the apparent purpose of Schumer's speech was to give cover for Democrats to criticize Israel more freely.

Gauging the reaction, it would seem Schumer achieved his goal.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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