Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, criticizes Netanyahu

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Thursday for new elections in Israel, harshly criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace.

Democrat Schumer, long a supporter of Israel and the highest-ranking U.S. Jewish elected official, told the Senate that Netanyahu’s government “no longer fits the needs of Israel” five months into a war that began with attacks on Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

“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. There needs to be a fresh debate about the future of Israel after Oct. 7,” Schumer said.

“In my opinion, that is best accomplished by holding an election,” he said.

Schumer said it would be a “grave mistake” for Israel to reject a two-state solution and urged negotiators in the Israel-Gaza conflict to do everything possible to secure a ceasefire, free hostages and get aid into Gaza.

Schumer and other leading Democrats, including President Joe Biden, face intense criticism from within the party, over Washington’s unconditional support for Israel, given the impact on Palestinian civilians of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that Schumer had given the White House advance notice about the speech, but that it had not given disapproval or approval or edited in anyway.

“We fully respect his right to say those remarks and decide for himself what he’s going to say on the Senate floor,” Kirby told reporters.

Asked if Washington thinks Israel should hold elections after the war, Kirby said: “That’s up to the Israelis.”

A spokesperson from the Israeli prime minister’s office said there was “no comment for now.” Netanyahu’s Likud party said that Israel was not a banana republic and that Netanyahu’s policy had wide public support.

“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,” the Likud statement said.

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

The war erupted after fighters from Hamas killed 1,200 people in a lightning Oct. 7 attack on Israel and took 253 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed at least 31,184 Palestinians and injured 72,889, according to authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Schumer criticized Palestinians who support Hamas, and said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas should also step aside.

“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,” Schumer said.


The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, quickly came to Netanyahu’s defense in Senate remarks just after Schumer’s unusually long 45-minute speech.

“It is grotesque… and hypocritical… for Americans who hyperventilate about foreign interference in our own democracy to call for the removal of the democratically elected leader of Israel. This is unprecedented,” McConnell said.

While Schumer did not mention the possibility of introducing legislation to tie the provision of U.S. weapons to Israel easing the humanitarian crisis, as some Democrats advocate, Schumer raised the possibility of Washington using its leverage if Israel does not change course.

“If Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current coalition remains in power after the war begins to wind down, and continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing U.S. standards for assistance, then the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change the present course,” he said.

Schumer’s speech reflected growing frustration in Washington with Netanyahu, his management of the war, failure to do more to protect Palestinian civilians and perceived obstruction of aid deliveries in Gaza.

“(Netanyahu) has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah,” Schumer said.

Biden’s administration is also unhappy with Netanyahu’s staunch resistance to U.S. calls to back a two-state solution, which the U.S. sees as essential to helping to quell the conflict and achieving lasting peace.

This month’s welcome to Washington by Schumer and administration officials of Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz was widely seen as a snub to Netanyahu, who has yet to be invited to the Biden White House. Gantz is a centrist politician who U.S. officials hope will someday replace the prime minister.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Katharine Jackson and Steve Holland in Washington and Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem; editing by Howard Goller)