Did Senator Schumer Actually Signal a Change in U.S. Policy toward Israel?

What United States Senator Chuck Schumer said in a forty-plus minute address on March 14 sent shock waves across the world. Schumer, the Senate Majority leader and the highest level Jewish elected official in the U.S., seemed to be turning against Israel’s policy in Gaza, which has been condemned by many as ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinians.

At first glance, his call for Israel to hold new elections to replace Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu seemed to be a decisive shift, perhaps a foreboding that President Biden, who has been clashing semi-publicly with the Israeli leader, might be using the Senator to prepare for a change in policy. After all, Biden’s continuing commitment to providing arms, money and political cover to Israel is increasingly unpopular, especially among key Democratic Party constituencies, including youth and Muslims, and in the American Jewish community.

In his speech, Schumer said he believes Netanyahu “has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel…. He has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah….” To prevent its isolation, he added, “I believe 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.” He went further, identifying cabinet members Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich as “extremists”, while stating that he personally favors a two-state solution, the same as President Biden.

However, he proposed that a new election take place “once the war starts to wind down,” meaning that though he called Bibi an “obstacle to peace,” he did not advocate an end to the murderous assault of innocent civilians underway. In other words, he should first complete his war mission.

Netanyahu responded with macho bluster, as could be expected. He said it’s “wrong to try to replace the elected leaders…of a staunch American ally…especially during a time of war”, which actually is in line with what Schumer said about waiting until the war winds down. He reiterated that “No amount of international pressure will stop us from realizing all the goals of the war: eliminating Hamas, releasing all our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat against Israel. We must not give in to these pressures, and we will not give in to them.”

Schumer did not advocate the one effective strategy which would force Israel to end its assault on Palestinians, that is, an immediate end to all aid to Israel — military, financial and political — until there was an agreement to a complete ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israel from all land internationally recognized as a Palestinian state, and an economic package benefiting all peoples and nations in southwest Asia.

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