US Senate leader Chuck Schumer calls for new Israel elections amid Gaza war | Israel War on Gaza News

The top legislator in the United States Senate, Chuck Schumer, has offered his most strident criticism of Israel since the war in Gaza began, calling for a leadership shake-up in the country.

On Thursday, Schumer, a Jewish-American Democrat, took direct aim at Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech from the US Senate floor, saying the Israeli leader has been “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza”.

Schumer pushed Israel to hold elections to replace Netanyahu and said the prime minister had “lost his way” in his pursuit of “political survival”.

“There needs to be a fresh debate about the future of Israel after October 7,” Schumer said, referring to the date when the Palestinian group Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel, spurring the present-day war.

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may,” Schumer continued. “But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice.”

Schumer, the Senate majority leader, did not suggest a timeline for any eventual vote, though.

More than 31,341 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, many of them children. The spiralling death toll has prompted widespread condemnation and fears of genocide in the territory.

But President Joe Biden and other prominent US leaders have largely been circumspect in their criticism of Israel’s military campaign. The US is a longtime ally of Israel, and it contributes approximately $3.8bn in aid to the country every year.

Still, Schumer’s words — and more vocal criticisms from Biden himself — have signalled a shift in the approach Democratic leadership is taking towards Israel, amid mounting public pressure to seek a permanent ceasefire.

“We should not let the complexities of this conflict stop us from stating the plain truth: Palestinian civilians do not deserve to suffer for the sins of Hamas, and Israel has a moral obligation to do better,” Schumer said in his speech. “The United States has an obligation to do better.”

Schumer added that Netanyahu was one of several “major obstacles” to a two-state solution that might eventually resolve the conflict. Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected the notion of a two-state solution, despite the Biden administration insisting it should be a cornerstone of any post-war plans.

Given the Israeli government’s refusal so far to change course, Schumer hinted that the US may be forced to “play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using leverage”.

Response to Schumer’s speech

The speech marks one of the most direct and biting speeches given by a high-ranking US political leader during the war’s first five months.

And it quickly prompted a response, both from the Israeli government and the Biden administration.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller said Schumer’s comments were his own and did not represent the stance of the administration.

“There are a number of things we wanted to see Israel do differently,” Miller acknowledged nevertheless.

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich weighed in as well, condemning Schumer’s remarks.

“We expect the largest democracy in the world to respect Israeli democracy,” Smotrich said.

US Republicans, for their part, used the speech to blast the Democratic leadership. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, described Schumer’s call for new elections in Israel “grotesque and hypocritical”.

“The Jewish state of Israel deserves an ally that acts like one,” McConnell said.

Critics push for action

Schumer attempted to preemptively fend off such criticism during his speech, underscoring his pro-Israel bona fides. As the highest-ranking Jewish person in US government, he also drew on his family’s history with the Holocaust to underscore his sympathy for the Israeli plight.

“If the events of the last few months have made anything clear, it is that Israel is surrounded by vicious enemies, and there are many people around the world who excuse and even support their aims to expel and kill Jews living in their hard-won land of refuge,” Schumer said.

But while Schumer and other top Democratic leaders have remained stalwart in their support of Israel, their rhetoric has shifted in recent weeks to be increasingly critical of its military campaign.

Biden, for instance, has warned Israel about pursuing a ground operation in the southern city of Rafah, calling it a “red line“. Officials have also denounced Israeli impediments to the distribution of aid in Gaza.

Still, critics of the administration have said such words are empty without more material action.

Earlier this week, for instance, eight US senators — including Vermont’s Bernie Sanders — issued a letter to the president calling on him to premise aid to Israel on the condition that access to humanitarian aid in Gaza be expanded — and any impediments removed.

Settler sanctions

Schumer’s speech on Thursday also came as the US announced more sanctions on Israeli settlers and illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank — one area the Biden administration has shown more willingness to act.

The US Department of State said the outposts known as Moshes Farm and Zvis Farm had been bases for violence against Palestinians. Thursday’s sanctions also targeted three illegal Israeli settlers.

The administration in February imposed sanctions on four Israeli men it accused of being involved in settler violence in the occupied West Bank, which has surged since October 7.

“It is critical that Israel take additional action to stop settler violence and hold accountable those responsible for it, not just for the sake of the victims of this violence, but for Israel’s own security and standing in the world,” Miller, the State Department spokesman, told reporters.

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