Netanyahu Says Schumer’s Call for New Elections Is ‘Totally Inappropriate’

President Joe Biden speaks during a Saint Patrick’s Day event with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the East Room of the White House on March 17 in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images via

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON – Fallout from Chuck Schumer’s speech last week pushing for new elections in Israel is continuing, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it “totally inappropriate” and President Joe Biden commending the Jewish Senate majority leader for a “good speech.”

The divergent reactions over the weekend to the New York Democrat’s bombshell speech exposed broadening tensions between the Biden and Netanyahu governments as Israel’s war with Hamas reaches a critical juncture.

Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, were quick to seize on the rift ahead of the November election. In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, the Republican presidential nominee said Biden had decided to “dump Israel,” and repeated his claim, without evidence, that Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack would not have happened had he been president.

Netanyahu’s anger with Schumer, the most senior Jewish elected official in history and one who has long had tight ties with the Israeli prime minister, was unvarnished in his interview on CNN’s Sunday morning show, “State of the Union.”

“What he said is totally inappropriate,” Netanyahu said. “It’s inappropriate for him to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there. That’s something that the Israeli public does on its own.”

Biden, who is increasingly frustrated with, in his view, Netanyahu’s failure to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, praised Schumer.

“He made a good speech, and I think he expressed a serious concern shared not only by him but by many Americans,” Biden said Friday, in a meeting with the Irish Taoiseach, or head of government, Leo Varadkar.

Biden has not called for Netanyahu’s removal. But earlier this month, the White House welcomed Benny Gantz, a popular Netanyahu rival and moderate member of Israel’s war cabinet, for briefings with top officials. Gantz currently sits in Netanyahu’s coalition, but polls show that he would beat the prime minister in an election.

And last week, the office of the director of national intelligence, in a threat assessment, reported that Netanyahu’s government was on shaky ground, a remarkable statement about an ally.

“Distrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has deepened and broadened across the public from its already high levels before the war, and we expect large protests demanding his resignation and new elections,” the threat assessment said. “A different, more moderate government is a possibility.

Netanyahu in his opening remarks Sunday to the weekly Israeli cabinet meeting, sharpened his criticism of outside pressure for new elections, although he did not specify Biden or Schumer.

“In the international community, there are those who are trying to stop the war now, before all of its goals have been achieved,” Netanyahu said. “They are doing so by hurling false accusations at the IDF, the government of israel and the prime minister of Israel.” Netanyahu said. He added that holding early elections “will halt the war and paralyze the country for at least six months.”

And he once again said he was determined to send troops into Rafah, which Israel says is the last redoubt of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Biden administration officials said Israel has not shown how this would be feasible without endangering the more than a million Palestinian civilians who have taken refuge in the city, which sits on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

“This is the only way to eliminate Hamas’s murderous brigades, and this is the only way to use the military pressure necessary to free all of our hostages,” Netanyahu said, referring to the more than 130 hostages still held by Hamas.

“To this end, we have approved the operational plans for action in Rafah, including advancing the steps to evacuate the civilian population from the combat zones,” he said. “This is an essential stage ahead of the military action.”

U.S. officials say that Netanyahu has not presented a viable plan to evacuate the Palestinians in Rafah, hundreds of thousands of whom fled to the city at israel’s behest as the Israeli army invaded the rest of the strip.

“We haven’t seen it,” John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, said Friday when he was asked at a briefing for reporters about plans to evacuate Rafah. “To move in right now in a major way without a proper accounting for all those people would, as we’ve said, be a disaster.”

Biden is coming under increasing pressure domestically and internationally to bring about a ceasefire. He has blamed Hamas for turning down terms Israel has accepted, including a six-week pause in fighting and the exchange of hostages for hundreds of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.

But international pressure to rein in Israel was manifest in his St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with Varadkar, one of a number of European leaders who have stridently criticized Israel’s conduct in the war.

“The taoiseach and I agree about the urgent need to increase humanitarian aid in Gaza and get a ceasefire deal that brings the hostages home, and move toward a two-state solution, which is the only path — the only path for lasting peace and security,” Biden said.

Other Democrats have criticized Netanyahu more bluntly. Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday called Netanyahu a liar, when he was asked about Netanyahu’s claim that UNRWA, the relief agency Netanyahu has said is infiltrated by terrorists.

“There’s no doubt that the claim that Prime Minister Netanyahu and others are making that somehow UNRWA is a proxy for Hamas, or just flat out lies,” he said. “That’s a flat out lie.”

Larry Hogan, the former Republican senator for Maryland now running for Senate, held up Van Hollen’s criticism of Israel as a reason Jews, who traditionally vote in large numbers for Democrats, should consider a moderate Republican, in an appearance at a Washington-area synagogue on Friday convened by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

(Hogan is not running against Van Hollen, who is not up for reelection. He is running to fill the seat held by retiring Sen. Ben Cardin, a pro-Israel stalwart.)

Van Hollen has “become one of the most hostile voices against Israel in the entire United States Senate,” Hogan said to a receptive audience at Beth Sholom synagogue in Potomac. He also slammed Schumer.

“I was shocked and outraged by Schumer’s comments,” he said. “Look, this isn’t Netanyahu’s war, this is Israel’s war.”


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