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Chuck Schumer’s important speech on Israel

As the Senate majority leader made clear, supporting Israel doesn’t mean supporting Benjamin Netanyahu, its intransigent, myopic premier.

“Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, preserve Israel’s credibility on the world stage, and work towards a two-state solution,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer declared.Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has found himself in the center of a storm after giving a speech on the Senate floor in which he called for new elections in Israel — a call made with the hope that such a balloting would spell the end of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

“Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, preserve Israel’s credibility on the world stage, and work towards a two-state solution,” Schumer declared.

That’s been obvious for some time, but no one in a high government position in this country has publicly confronted that reality head on. Schumer deserves great credit for doing so. (A short column can’t do full justice to his nuanced, far-sighted speech, which can be viewed on YouTube.)


He first carefully detailed the context of the current conflict, noting that Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack was “brutal beyond imagination.” That barbarous attack resulted in the deaths of some 1,200 Israelis, as well as the sexual assault of dozens, and the abduction of more than 240 civilians and soldiers, 97 of whom are still believed to be alive. He added that Hamas’ tactic of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population has contributed to the unacceptably high civilian death toll as Israel has tried to eradicate the terrorist organization that has governed Gaza.

But even if he hadn’t carefully detailed the context of Israel’s war on Hamas, few would ever question Schumer’s pro-Israel credentials. His long-time devotion to Israel and the fact that he is the highest ranking Jewish elected official in the US government made his speech particularly noteworthy.

Even as the Biden administration has emphasized the need to pursue a two-state solution after the war winds down, Netanyahu has rejected that. Labeling that rejection “a grave mistake,” the New York senator continued: “The only real and sustainable solution to this decades-old conflict is a negotiated two-state solution — a demilitarized Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in equal measures of peace, security, prosperity, dignity, and mutual recognition.”


Given Netanyahu’s stance, Schumer said, Israel needs a fresh debate about its future in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. “I … believe a majority of the Israeli public will recognize the need for change, and I believe that holding a new election once the war starts to wind down would give Israelis an opportunity to express their vision for the post-war future.”

Schumer also called for a change in leadership of the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority, which is ineffectually headed by the octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas.

But it’s his call for new elections in Israel that has attracted the most attention. In an unmistakable signal of his own frustration with Netanyahu, who has resisted the Biden administration’s urging for a more carefully tailored, casualty-conscious military response, President Biden labeled Schumer’s address “a good speech” that “expressed serious concern shared … by many Americans.”

Sensing an opportunity for domestic political gain, Donald Trump jumped clumsily into the fray.

“I actually think they hate Israel,” Trump said, ridiculously, of Schumer and Biden. Nor did he stop with that absurdity. “Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion,” he declared. “They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.”


Actually, Schumer is speaking for mainstream Jews in America, said Alan Solomont, former ambassador to Spain and immediate past board chair of J Street, the liberal pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy organization.

“I thought it was extraordinarily courageous and also incredibly honest,” said Solomont, who added that a recent trip to Israel left him believing that a strong majority of Israelis want Netanyahu gone.

Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman said Schumer’s address helps make it clear that supporting Israel is very different from backing its right-wing government.

“I obviously don’t speak for every Jew, but the people I know are just not supportive of Netanyahu,” he said. “And almost everyone I know is for a two-state solution.”

Solomont said Schumer’s speech should signal to Netanyahu that the United States won’t offer unconditional support of Israel’s war effort without regard to the civilian consequences. Although no one questions Israel’s right to defend itself, “anyone who thinks the way Israel is prosecuting this war is going to make Israel more secure is operating in a fantasy world,” he added.

There’s no better indication of the effect of Schumer’s speech than reports of Netanyahu’s scramble to speak to US lawmakers. On Thursday, House Speaker Mike Johnson said he would invite the Israeli prime minister to address a joint session of Congress; if Schumer objects, Johnson said he would ask Netanyahu to speak to the House alone.


If that happens, the stage will be set for a debate between serious, far-sighted foreign policy makers and the myopic right-wing ideologues — in both countries.

Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.