update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Israeli officials slam Schumer’s ‘undermining’ speech on Netanyahu

Netanyahu's Likud Party charged that "Israel is not a banana republic, but an independent and proud democracy."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks at Sixth & I before 50 American Jewish leaders visit Israel, on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo courtesy of Bo Harris.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks at Sixth & I before 50 American Jewish leaders visit Israel, on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo courtesy of Bo Harris.

Israeli officials across the political spectrum hit out at U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday night for remarks that effectively called for the replacement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he implied is the main obstacle to a “healthy and open decision-making process” about the future of the Jewish state.

In a speech on the Senate floor that Schumer described as a “major address” on a possible two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, the Jewish senator labeled some of Netanyahu’s senior Cabinet members “bigots” and “extremists” and called for new elections.

Schumer claimed that he was speaking on behalf of “mainstream Jewish Americans” to represent their views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He suggested that Washington should condition or cut off military aid to Jerusalem unless a new government is formed.

Without mentioning Schumer by name, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog was the first to respond, saying after the speech that it was “counterproductive” for him to comment on domestic affairs.

“Israel is a sovereign democracy,” Herzog wrote in a post 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.”

Israel’s ruling Likud Party urged Schumer to refrain from “undermining” Netanyahu’s coalition, noting that “Israel is not a banana republic, but an independent and proud democracy. 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,” the statement added.

Benny Gantz, whose National Unity Party joined Netanyahu’s wartime government in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, called the U.S. lawmaker’s move “counter-productive and unacceptable,” adding that “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.”

By contrast, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party proclaimed that the Senate speech proves that “one by one, Netanyahu is losing the staunchest supporters of Israel. What’s worse is, he is doing it on purpose. Netanyahu is causing serious damage to the national effort to win the war and maintain Israel’s security.” 

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana of the Likud tweeted: “On my recent state visit to the U.S., I was careful not to wade into American internal politics. The U.S.-Israel alliance lives beyond partisan lines. We work with whoever Americans elect, and expect that respect in return. Senator Chuck Schumer has been a friend and staunch supporter of Israel for many years, and our recent meeting in the Senate made that clear to me. But his words contravene the reciprocal respect that should define our relationship.”

Ohana’s message was echoed by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who said: “The largest democracy in the world is expected to respect Israeli democracy.”

According to a survey published earlier this week, even Israelis who do not trust Netanyahu’s leadership continue to back some of his key war policies, including his opposition to the two-state solution and his insistence that the Israel Defense Forces defeat Hamas in Rafah.

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