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Chuck Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, breaking with Benjamin Netanyahu

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, called for new elections in Israel.
Mariam Zuhaib
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, called for new elections in Israel.

Updated March 14, 2024 at 12:45 PM ET

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history and a top advocate for Israel in Congress, announced that he sees Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace in the country's war with Hamas. He said it was time for the country to hold new elections.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel," Schumer said.

The New York Democrat, who began his remarks by decrying Hamas and calling for the release of hostages, said that, were Netanyahu to remain in power, it would jeopardize global support for Israel at a critical juncture.

"Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah," he said.

Schumer said that Israel needs to make "some serious course corrections," including allowing more aid into Gaza, though asserted that the country had shouldered too much of the blame for the civilian death toll, which is now estimated to be more than 30 thousand people.

"Hamas has heartlessly hidden behind their fellow Palestinians by turning hospitals into command centers and refugee camps into missile launching sites," Schumer said.

Among the other obstacles to peace Schumer identified: radical right-wing Israelis and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

The White House was made aware of Schumer's remarks in advance, according to John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

Split with Republicans

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the Senate floor after Schumer's remarks to reaffirm his support for Netanyahu.

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

At a House GOP retreat in West Virginia, Republican leaders called an impromptu press conference to slam Schumer. House Speaker Mike Johnson said they learned about the remarks during a work session, and found the remarks "shocking."

"This is not only highly inappropriate, it's just plain wrong," Johnson told reporters at Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., where Republicans are holding their retreat. "For an American leader to play such a divisive role in Israel politics, while our closest ally in the region is in an extensional battle for its very survival, we need to be standing with Israel."

Johnson was flanked by Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Rep. Elise Stefanik, who chairs the House Republican Conference. Scalise called Schumer's remarks "disgraceful," and said the Senate majority leader owes the people of Israel an apology. Emmer called Schumer's actions "unprecedented and very dangerous."

Stefanik said Republicans would hear more during a House Republican luncheon meeting with Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog, who's expected to give an update on the war.

"House Republicans proudly stand with Israel," she said.

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Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.