Updated March 15th, 2024 at 22:20 IST

Israel and Republicans Furious After Schumer Suggests Regime Change in Jerusalem

“Israel is an independent and proud democracy that elected Prime Minister Netanyahu, not a banana republic," Likud said in response.

Reported by: Sagar Kar
Chuck Schumer (left), Benjamin Netanyahu (centre) and Mitch McConnell (right). | Image:AP
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On Thursday, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for new elections in Israel, expressing his belief that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had "lost his way" and was hindering peace efforts in the region. Schumer's remarks, delivered on the Senate floor, ignited a flurry of reactions from both Jerusalem and Washington, highlighting the growing divergence between the US and Israel over the handling of the Gaza conflict.

Schumer's speech came amidst widening gaps between the two allies regarding Israel's military actions in Gaza against Hamas. He asserted that Netanyahu's coalition no longer aligned with the needs of Israel, particularly after October 7, stating that the Israeli people were being constrained by a leadership vision stuck in the past.

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What exactly did Schumer say?

Citing Netanyahu's alignment with far-right figures like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Schumer accused the Israeli leader of bowing to the demands of extremists and prioritizing political survival over the country's best interests. He criticized Netanyahu's tolerance of civilian casualties in Gaza, which he argued was eroding global support for Israel and jeopardizing its standing on the international stage.

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Warning of potential consequences, Schumer cautioned that if Netanyahu's coalition persisted with its policies post-war, the United States might intervene to shape Israeli policy by leveraging its influence. 

“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 US 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,” Schumer said. 

As the highest-ranking elected Jewish official in US history and a long-time pro-Israel advocate, Schumer's remarks signified a notable shift in his stance, reflecting growing criticism within the Democratic Party toward Jerusalem's policies.

How has Israel responded?

In response, Netanyahu's Likud party fiercely rebuked Schumer, asserting Israel's sovereignty and democratic process. Likud criticized Schumer's interference in Israeli politics, emphasizing the broad public support for decisive action against Hamas and rejection of external dictates regarding Palestinian statehood.

“Israel is an independent and proud democracy that elected Prime Minister Netanyahu, not a banana republic. Prime Minister Netanyahu leads a determined policy that is supported by a huge majority of the people. Contrary to Schumer’s words, the Israeli public supports a complete victory over Hamas, rejects any international dictates to establish a Palestinian terrorist state, and opposes the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. It is expected of Senator Schumer to respect Israel’s elected government and not undermine it. This is always true, but even more so during wartime," the statement from Likud reads. 

Even War cabinet minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's political rival, criticized Schumer's intervention. Gantz emphasized Israel's status as a robust democracy, reaffirming that only its citizens could determine its future leadership. 

“The United States and Israel share common values and interests, and the citizens of Israel profoundly cherish the clear stance of the United States in support of Israel throughout these trying times. The Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is a friend of Israel, and though he erred in his remarks, plays an important role in assisting the State of Israel, including during these difficult times. Israel is a robust democracy, and only its citizens will decide its future and leadership. Any external interference on the matter is counter-productive and unacceptable," he said. 

How have Republicans responded?

Schumer's speech also drew reactions from US political leaders. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell defended Israel's sovereignty and urged foreign observers to refrain from intervening in its internal affairs. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, condemned Schumer's remarks as inappropriate, stressing the need for American leaders to support Israel during its existential battle.

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Biden backs Schumer

During a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Friday, US President Joe Biden expressed his support for Schumer's statement and said that he made a “good speech”. “I think he expressed serious concerns shared not only by him but by many Americans,"Biden added.  

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The Democratic president's backing for Schumer could further frustrate Netanyahu, whose political party has already sharply criticised the US senator.

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Published March 15th, 2024 at 14:31 IST