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Schumer’s Critique Reveals Widening U.S.-Israel Divisions, Analysts Say

WorldMiddle EastSchumer’s Critique Reveals Widening U.S.-Israel Divisions, Analysts Say


Senator Chuck Schumer’s harsh critique of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government revealed the widening gap between Israel and its most important ally, the United States, analysts said on Friday. But even some of Mr. Netanyahu’s rivals appeared reluctant to seize on the comments while the country is focused on the war in Gaza.

Mr. Schumer — Democrat of New York, the majority leader and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States — repeatedly slammed Mr. Netanyahu in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday as one of the main stumbling blocks to Israeli-Palestinian peace. While not explicitly calling for Mr. Netanyahu’s ouster, Mr. Schumer said Israelis must soon be allowed the opportunity to select new leadership.

Alon Pinkas, a retired Israeli diplomat, called the speech a profound moment that reflected widespread American dissatisfaction with Israel’s direction among both its allies in Congress and in the American Jewish community.

“For a Jewish senator from New York, the majority leader, a friend of Netanyahu who’s the most centrist possible Democrat and even leans hawkish on Israel, to voice criticism like this?” said Mr. Pinkas, who previously served as Israel’s consul general in New York. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

The senator’s comments reflected the growing frustration among some American Jews with Israel’s hard-right government, he said, adding: “If you’ve lost Chuck Schumer, you’ve lost America.”

Even before the war in Gaza, Mr. Netanyahu had divided Israelis over his attempt to advance a contentious plan to weaken the judiciary. The devastating Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7 that officials said left 1,200 people dead in Israel and some 240 others taken as hostages to Gaza shocked Israelis, spurring greater calls for him to step down over the security failure.

Mr. Schumer’s comments on Thursday — that “a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government” — are borne out by opinion polls in Israel. Roughly 71 percent of Israelis support holding early elections, either immediately or at the end of the war, according to a poll published in January by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute.

“What Schumer said, in many ways, reflects Israeli public opinion regarding Netanyahu,” said Michael Koplow, an analyst at the Israel Policy Forum think tank. “He’s incredibly unpopular here, and an overwhelming majority of Israelis also want to see early elections.”

But for now, many Israelis remain focused on the military effort to eliminate Hamas in Gaza and on securing the release of the more than 100 hostages remaining there. And in public, at least, members of Mr. Netanyahu’s government did not express concern over Mr. Schumer’s remarks.

Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party quickly denounced them, saying in a statement that Israel was not a “banana republic, but rather an independent democracy proud to have elected Prime Minister Netanyahu.” It added that most Israelis support “total victory over Hamas” while rejecting a “Palestinian terrorist state.”

Benny Gantz, a center-right critic of Mr. Netanyahu who joined him in an emergency wartime government, said that Mr. Schumer had “erred in his remark.” Any “external intervention is not correct and not welcome,” Mr. Gantz said on social media.

Widely seen as a serious contender for prime minister in the next elections, Mr. Gantz regularly outpolls Mr. Netanyahu in opinion surveys. But “given everything going on in Gaza, even Israeli political leaders who oppose Netanyahu are reluctant to turn this into a political moment,” Mr. Koplow said.

Some right-wing political commentators said that rising criticism from abroad could help Mr. Netanyahu tamp down domestic anger. Nadav Strauchler, a political strategist who previously advised Mr. Netanyahu, said that Mr. Schumer’s criticisms gave the embattled premier another way to present himself as standing up for Israel’s security against the outside world.

“If the intent was ‘Help Netanyahu,’ then it worked splendidly,” said Mr. Strauchler. “If the United States wants to exert pressure, this isn’t the way to go about it. It creates the opposite effect.”



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