Biden hails ‘good speech’ by Schumer criticizing Netanyahu, says many Americans agree

US president backs up Senate majority leader who called the prime minister an obstacle to peace and said he’d ‘lost his way’

US President Joe Biden, center, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, left, talk to reporters before a lunch with Senate Democrats on his budget and political agenda, at the Capitol in Washington, March 2, 2023. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
File: US President Joe Biden, center, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, left, talk to reporters before a lunch with Senate Democrats on his upcoming budget and political agenda, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that Chuck Schumer had made a “good speech” on Thursday, when the Democratic Senate majority leader called for new elections in Israel to potentially replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he branded as an obstacle to peace.

“He made a good speech,” Biden said in the White House’s Oval Office when asked by reporters about Schumer’s remarks on the Senate floor.

“He expressed serious concerns, shared not only by him but by many Americans,” he said, adding that his staff were notified about the speech in advance by Schumer’s office.

At the same time, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing that it would be “up to the Israeli people to decide” on whether to hold a national vote.

In his speech on Thursday, Schumer spoke about feeling an obligation as an American Jew to speak out about Israel’s role in achieving peace with the Palestinians.

“We love Israel in our bones,” he said of the Jewish American community. “What Israel has meant to my generation, within living memory of the Holocaust, is impossible to measure. The flowering of the Jewish people in the desert from the ashes of the Holocaust, and the fulfillment of the dream of a Jewish homeland — after nearly two thousand years of praying and waiting — represents one of the most heartfelt causes of my life.”

He then said he understood and did not underestimate the threat Israel faces in the Middle East, especially in light of the events of the last few months, which include Hamas’s October 7 attack, when it murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel’s south and kidnapped 253.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks on the Senate floor on March 14, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Schumer went on to say that he was “anguished by the plight” of the 130 hostages (including American citizens) who remain in Gaza.

The senate leader also decried the number of reported casualties in Gaza as a result of the war as the Hamas-led health ministry claims more than 31,000 people have been killed by Israel. The number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the terror group’s own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terrorists in Gaza.

While Schumer indicated that he did not believe Israel was doing enough to prevent civilian casualties, he also said that the country was not alone in carrying blame, saying that Hamas “knowingly invited an immense civilian toll during this war” and condemning its use of Gazan civilians as human shields.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, poses for a picture with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Schumer listed Netanyahu as one of the four obstacles to peace along with Hamas, the Israeli far-right and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, saying the Israeli prime minister had “lost his way” politically and that he and his government did not fit the needs of Israel’s post-October 7 reality.

Therefore, he said, he believed Israel needed to have elections, implying the need to replace Netanyahu and those he dubbed extremists in his government, such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Schumer’s speech drew heavy criticism from officials in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said “Israel is an independent and proud democracy that elected Prime Minister Netanyahu, not a banana republic… It is expected of Senator Schumer to respect Israel’s elected government and not undermine it.”

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog said “Israel is a sovereign democracy. It is unhelpful — all the more so as Israel is at war against the genocidal terror organization Hamas — to comment on the domestic political scene of a democratic ally.”

Minister Benny Gantz said Schumer’s comments were inappropriate. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid saw it as further proof of a growing rift under Netanyahu in the relations between Israel and the US.

Biden’s praise of Schumer’s speech comes as the US president’s relationship with Netanyahu has seemingly become strained. Following his State of the Union speech last week, Biden was caught on a hot mic saying that the prime minister was going to have a “come to Jesus moment.”

Explaining the comment in an MSNBC interview on Sunday, Biden said that he believed Netanyahu “is hurting Israel more than helping Israel.”

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