newsU.S.-Israel Relations

‘We’re more embarrassed’ than Netanyahu about Schumer speech, says Republican senator

“When you make these issues partisan, you hurt the cause of Israel,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said of Netanyahu's address to Senate Republicans. “I gave this speech out of a real love for Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a graduation ceremony for an IDF officers course, March 7, 2024. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a graduation ceremony for an IDF officers course, March 7, 2024. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a videoconference briefing to Senate Republicans on Wednesday, amid growing partisan divide in Congress over U.S. support for Israel.

Senators coming out of the closed-door meeting said that Netanyahu addressed progress in the war against Hamas as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) recent speech on the Senate floor calling for new elections in Israel that would remove the governing coalition from power.

Netanyahu said that the majority of operations against Hamas in Gaza have finished but didn’t give a timeline for the war’s conclusion, per Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

Schumer said on Thursday that Netanyahu was one of “four obstacles to peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, along with “radical right-wing Israelis,” Hamas and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said Netanyahu told Republicans he was “shocked” by the speech. “He talked about it,” Tuberville said, according to Sahil Kapur, of NBC. “But we’re more embarrassed than he is.”

Schumer, who has long billed himself as a staunch Israel supporter, was asked Wednesday about reports that he had rejected a request from Netanyahu to give a similar briefing to Senate Democrats. The senator told reporters that Netanyahu was wrong to hold these discussions on a partisan basis.

“When you make these issues partisan, you hurt the cause of Israel,” Schumer said. “I gave this speech out of a real love for Israel.”

Schumer’s speech exposed divisions among pro-Israel Democrats about the prospects of a two-state solution and has raised questions about whether the speech was an attempt to help U.S. President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign.

“The Democrats talk about the two-state solution,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Wednesday. “In my opinion, the two states they’re most worried about are Michigan and Nevada, which are states that Biden is very worried about in terms of his own re-election.”

Biden administration officials have accused Netanyahu of interfering in U.S. politics.

“Inherent in the question is kind of an interesting irony, which is you have the prime minister speaking on American television about his concerns about Americans interfering in Israeli politics,” said Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor, at a Monday press conference. 

“Then your question is, should Americans be speaking into Israeli politics, which, in fact, we don’t do nearly as much as they speak into ours,” he added.

That claim is likely an allusion in part to Netanyahu’s 2015 address to Congress, during which he lambasted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the formal name for the Iran nuclear deal and a signature foreign policy effort of the Obama administration—as “a very bad deal.” 

Obama administration officials and many congressional Democrats snubbed the speech, because Netanyahu was invited by then-Republican House speaker John Boehner without consulting the White House or Democratic leaders.

Ahead of Wednesday’s Senate teleconference, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) told reporters he was mulling a similar invite for Netanyahu to address Congress.

“It’s one of the things that we have in mind, and we may try to arrange for that,” Johnson said. “I think it’s very important for us to show solidarity and support for Israel right now in their time of great struggle.”

“We certainly stand for that position and we’ll try to advance that in every way that we can,” he said.

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