U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks on the...

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks on the Senate floor on Thursday. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had been thinking for several months about making the speech he delivered Thursday in which he called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an obstacle to peace and urged Israel to hold elections.

Schumer, who as Senate majority leader has national and world standing as the Senate’s first and highest-ranking American Jewish government official, told Newsday it finally was time to speak out.

“I felt I had to do it because I felt that Netanyahu is making Israel a pariah state and Israel can’t survive if it becomes a pariah state,” Schumer said of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I thought it was really important as so many people are turning against Israel because of Netanyahu.”

He said he worries about Americans’ increasingly negative views of Israel as Netanyahu continues to conduct a war on Hamas that has resulted in thousands of deaths of Palestinians. That has led to growing protest movements against Israel across the United States.

“Because of Netanyahu's actions Americans are turning away from Israel for the first time,” Schumer said. “And I felt that I had to show that you can be very pro-Israel but not be pro-Netanyahu. That was why I gave the speech.”

He said, “most Americans are pro-Israel but really are troubled by how Netanyahu has conducted himself. And in polling data that’s true of Democrats and a good number of Republicans, particularly young ones.”

Schumer continued: “I felt I had to do it as a friend of Israel, because the majority of Israelis want elections. What it shows in polling is that the majority of Israelis don’t want Netanyahu.”

Schumer named Netanyahu as one of four obstacles to peace, pointing also to Hamas and its Palestinian supporters, radical right-wing Israelis and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Schumer delivered his speech after the Senate gaveled in at 10 a.m. He stood behind a lectern and turned the pages of his speech as he spoke in the nearly empty chamber.

Only Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) came to listen. Welch arrived from one of the few full visitor galleries where he had taken chef Jose Andres, whose World Central Kitchen group is trying to deliver 200 tons of food to Gaza.

Democrats backed Schumer after the speech. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) condemned Schumer for interfering in internal Israeli affairs and expressed support for Netanyahu.

Schumer said he let the White House know he was delivering the speech. Biden last week said Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” and said he “must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost.”

As he began his remarks, Schumer said he spoke for himself and “many mainstream Jewish Americans.”

Noting his name derives from the Hebrew word Shomer, or “guardian,” Schumer said “I also feel very keenly my responsibility as a Shomer Yisroel — a guardian of the People of Israel.”

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