Schumer dodges political blowback on Israel

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) knew he would be taking a big political risk when he called for new elections in Israel — but weeks later has avoided serious political blowback for his landmark statement and instead given divided Democrats something to rally behind.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political allies, including Republicans in Congress, denounced Schumer’s speech, which referred to Netanyahu as an “obstacle to peace” and went further than any prominent Democrats in Congress had been willing to go.

But it was applauded by President Biden, Democratic colleagues and many Jewish Americans who have struggled with how to process the war in Gaza.

“This is what leadership is, giving the rest of the party and the country a set of thoughts and principles to move forward in a very difficult situation like this. I think that’s what he wanted to do in that speech,” said Israel “Izzy” Klein, a former Schumer aide and political committee chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

“I didn’t look at it and I don’t think he did either in a political way. Of course, he’s a politician so everything gets seen through that lens,” he added.

Klein said there was a “misinterpreting” by some critics that Schumer was calling for Netanyahu’s ouster, but the Senate leader was careful to spell out that was not his intention.

Schumer said he wants to make sure that the Israeli people have a chance to voice their preferences for how they are governed after the paradigm shift of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which left more than 1,100 Israeli civilians and soldiers dead.

Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, who previously worked for Schumer for eight years, said his former boss got the speech right.

“I don’t think he went too far,” he said. “I was surprised when I saw his floor speech, having worked for him for eight years.

“He is perhaps the most staunchly pro-Israel person I’ve ever met. I’m Jewish, by way of background,” he said. “I thought his speech was excellent and suitably nuanced and was also an indication of the problems that Israel is facing with public opinion in this country.”

A New York Times/Siena College national survey published in December showed former President Trump leading Biden among young voters for the first time — 49 percent to 43 percent and an overwhelming majority of voters under the age of 30 are opposed to the conflict in Gaza.

Schumer later told The New York Times he had to speak out on the future of Israel’s leadership because he feared it becoming a “pariah,” otherwise.

“Bibi could prevent any election until 2026,” he told The Times. “I worry under his leadership, Israel would become such a pariah in the world and even in the United States, because I look at the numbers and they’re rapidly decreasing. I had to speak out before it

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