Schumer Speech Reax

Schumer’s call for Netanyahu’s ouster meets chilly reception in pro-Israel community

Centrist pro-Israel groups and Democratic lawmakers distanced themselves from calls for new Israeli elections, even as some praised other portions of Schumer’s speech

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) departs from the Senate Chambers in the U.S. Capitol Building on March 14, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) speech on Thursday calling for new Israeli elections and the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been met with a chilly reception in the centrist and moderate Democratic pro-Israel community, even as some praised portions of the speech but distanced themselves from Schumer’s comments on Israel’s leadership.

The Senate majority leader’s lengthy remarks — which denounced Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, the media and the left — provided much fertile ground for praise from the pro-Israel community, but his remarks advocating for a new Israeli government are proving a step too far for some.

“Israel is an independent democracy that decides for itself when elections are held and chooses its own leaders. America must continue to stand with our ally Israel and ensure it has the time and resources it needs to win this war,” AIPAC said in a statement. “Hamas bears sole responsibility for this conflict. The hope for a brighter future for the Middle East begins with Israel’s decisive defeat of Hamas.”

The American Jewish Committee likewise said it does not “believe it is appropriate for U.S. officials to try to dictate the electoral future of any ally.” 

“Israel is a sovereign democracy in the midst of a war of self-defense against a terrorist organization bent on massacring Jews and destroying Israel,” the centrist pro-Israel group said. “The Israeli people will decide their own political path.”

But AJC praised Schumer for “clearly putting Israel’s security and the plight of the hostages front and center, underscoring the need for new Palestinian leadership, and emphasizing Hamas’s horrific brutality and disregard for the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.”

Democratic Majority for Israel, a moderate Democratic pro-Israel group, praised much of Schumer’s speech while distancing itself from parts of it.

“While we do not agree with everything in Leader Schumer’s speech, we thank him for reminding the country, and the world, that Israel is a democracy and has a right to defend itself,” the group’s president and CEO, Mark Mellman, said in a statement. “He spoke clearly about Hamas’ unspeakable evil, of their responsibility for civilian casualties in Gaza, and of the need to dismantle Hamas so they no longer play any role in Gaza.”

DMFI also praised Schumer for rejecting an immediate permanent cease-fire, criticizing the media and anti-Israel protesters and supporting aid for Palestinians and a two-state solution.

Moderate pro-Israel Democrats on Capitol Hill have offered similar reactions.

“I agree with 99% of what was in that,” Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) told reporters, when asked whether he agreed with Schumer’s call for new elections. “I respect everything that he says. And it’s not necessary for me to agree with 100% of what he says… I really agree with the vast majority of what he [said]. I thought he said really important things that need to be said more.”

Fetterman clarified in separate remarks that he disagreed with Schumer’s call for new elections.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD),  the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also offered praise for Schumer’s overall remarks, particularly his comments emphasizing the need for new Palestinian leadership, but stopped short of directly endorsing new elections.

“Senator Schumer laid out a comprehensive plan. I give him a lot of credit for spelling out the historic issues and Israel’s needs,” Cardin told JI. “Oct. 7 changed the political landscape in Israel, no question about it. So what democracies do is they elect their leaders. I think what Senator Schumer’s saying [is] it’s now time for the Israelis to speak as to who will represent them as they move forward in peace.”

Pressed on whether that means he wants to see new elections, Cardin told reporters, “that’s up to the Israelis to determine how they handle this, I’m not going to tell them how to go about it.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a de-facto leader among the moderate pro-Israel Jewish bloc in the House, disavowed Schumer’s call for new elections.

“Israel is also a democracy and, like the United States, it is an imperfect democracy. Israel is currently in an existential fight for its survival and the U.S. will stand by our ally to assure its security and future as a Jewish, democratic state,” Schneider said. “Although I have disagreements with Israel’s government, I respect the Israelis’ right to decide for themselves when to call elections and whom to choose as their leaders.”

“I pray that when the time comes, Israelis of all faiths and backgrounds will come together to elect leaders who will strengthen democracy and build on the unbreakable bonds between our two nations,” he continued.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) took a somewhat different approach, rejecting calls for a new Israeli election while blasting Netayahu.

“Israel is an independent country and should select its own leaders through its own electoral process,” Sherman said. “As an American elected official, I don’t express an opinion on when Israel’s elections should be held or who should win those elections.”

But, he continued, as Israel’s “one true and most important friend” and a major financial supporter, “The United States has the right to comment on the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu,” going on to criticize Netanyahu for failing to sufficiently prepare for an attack from Gaza.

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