Mar 19, 2024

Chuck Schumer's rebuke of Netanyahu.

Chuck Schumer's rebuke of Netanyahu.
Senator Chuck Schumer. Photo: Corey Boles

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I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Today, we're covering Senator Chuck Schumer's comments about Benjamin Netanyahu. Plus, a job opening at Tangle!

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Quick hits.

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court appeared skeptical of arguments that the Biden administration unconstitutionally coerced social media companies into removing content from their platforms. (The arguments)
  2. President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had their first conversation in over a month. (The talk) Separately, the Israeli military raided a northern Gaza hospital and says it killed a senior Hamas commander. (The raid)
  3. Former President Trump's lawyers said he was unable to secure a bond for the $454 million judgment in his New York civil fraud case. Trump needs to pay the bond by March 25 or could begin having his assets seized by the state. (The payment)
  4. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the last form of asbestos that is still being imported and used in the United States. (The ban)
  5. Hong Kong’s legislature unanimously passed a new national security bill that punishes offenses including treason, sabotage, sedition, and the theft of state secrets. Critics say the bill will erode civil rights while supporters say it's necessary for national security. (The bill

Today's topic.

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Benjamin Netanyahu. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on Israel to hold new elections and described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Schumer, the first Jewish Senate majority leader, a longtime supporter of Israel and the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S., broke from a longstanding precedent for elected officials and heavily criticized Netanyahu in a 40-minute Senate speech.

Reminder: Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Its federal representative body is the Knesset, and Israelis elect its members from party lists, not by voting for individuals. After an election, the Israeli president (a largely symbolic role) consults leaders of elected parties to form a majority coalition government led by a prime minister. Elections are held on a regular schedule, but the Knesset can call for early elections, and in recent years there has been a lot of turmoil — with four different prime ministers (including Netanyahu twice) in the last four years.

Schumer said that Netanyahu has become reliant on a coalition of far-right extremists and "as a result, he has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows."

He also blamed Netanyahu for standing in the way of Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution, and pointed the finger at Hamas and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well, saying until they were all removed from the equation "there will never be peace in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank."

On Friday, President Biden expressed support for Schumer, saying he "made a good speech" and voiced serious concerns "shared by many Americans."

Netanyahu responded to the speech in an interview with CNN.

"I think what he said is totally inappropriate. It’s inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there," Netanyahu said. "That’s something the Israeli public does on its own. We are not a banana republic."

Netanyahu also told CNN that it was "ridiculous" to consider new elections while a war is ongoing and the threat from Hamas persists. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Schumer on the Senate floor immediately following the speech, saying "Israel deserves an ally that acts like one" and foreign observers shouldn't weigh in on their elections.

“Either we respect their decisions or we disrespect their democracy,” McConnell said.

One recent poll in Israel showed 51% of Israelis would like early elections, while 39% opposed the idea. A new coalition government would likely not include Netanyahu as prime minister.

Today, we're going to explore some reactions to the speech with views from the right and left here in the U.S., and two perspectives from the Middle East.

What the right is saying.

  • The right thinks Schumer’s comments were a cynical political play to shore up Democratic voter support. 
  • Others say Schumer’s vision for Israel would threaten its security. 

In The New York Post, Rich Lowry said Schumer “sold out” Israel “for Dem votes.”

“The speech calling for Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to go, along with increasingly critical statements by the White House, shows that the Democrats have decided that appeasing their left-wing base in an election year is now their top consideration,” Lowry wrote. “As a matter of basic decency, this is not something that allies do to one another other, especially not in wartime. Present unvarnished views in private? Absolutely. Try to nudge a partner toward a favored policy? Sure.

“But blast a friendly government in hopes that it can be toppled via a new election, just months after suffering a monstrous terrorist attack and as it is still trying to destroy a terrorist group deeply embedded in an urban environment? No,” Lowry said. “It is easy, sitting in Washington, DC, and worrying about how to placate the anti-Israel uncommitted voters in the Democratic primary, to forget the shock of the massive pogrom carried out by Hamas on that infamous day in October. Israelis, though, aren’t going to forget, nor should they.”

In Townhall, Jonathan Feldstein wrote about “Schumer’s undemocratic dangerous anti-Israel diatribe.”

“Calling for a two-state solution, Schumer expressed concern that Prime Minister Netanyahu (Israel) was creating a ‘de facto single state,’ thereby suggesting that Hamas and other Islamist terrorists would legitimately have no reasonable expectation to make peace. In other words, terror is acceptable as long as Israel does what the terrorists don’t like. Forget the embarrassing mindless repetition of US administration policy whose mantra of a ‘two state solution’ is neither practical nor possible under current circumstances. The fact is that even discussing this less than six months after the Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7 is a reward to all terrorists.”

“As much as these Democratic party leaders all seem to be reading from the same script, Senator Schumer’s remarks were particularly treacherous. Schumer conflated the obstacles to peace by suggesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government were as bad as Hamas, Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority,” Feldstein said. “Not only is it deeply wrong for an American politician, or anyone else, to stick his nose into domestic affairs of another democratic country, it is counterproductive.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left says Schumer’s remarks captured the current feelings of pro-Israel liberals about the war.
  • Others say Schumer was right to warn Israel that it is becoming a pariah. 

In The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. suggested “Schumer said out loud what many of Israel’s friends are thinking.”

“We live in a time when crass political motives are regularly ascribed to whatever elected officials do… But there was no guaranteed political upside to this speech. It immediately earned criticism both from Republicans as interfering in Israeli politics and from parts of the Democratic left for being insufficiently critical of Israel and lacking policy specifics on ending the war,” Dionne Jr. wrote. “What the speech does represent is a watershed… For him to split with Netanyahu so sharply and so publicly speaks to the profound change in opinion among Israel’s sympathizers since the Gaza war began.”

“That Schumer reflected a current running deep among traditionally pro-Israel Democrats was brought home Friday when President Biden called his effort ‘a good speech,’” Dionne Jr. said. “Far from being an attack on Israel… it was an attempt to shore up support for the Jewish state, particularly among young Americans who have known Israel only under Netanyahu’s leadership.”

In The Intercept, Murtaza Hussain said “the pro-Israel right wants to eat its cake too.”

“Despite its otherwise pro-Israel tone, Schumer’s speech predictably triggered outrage among staunch pro-Israel Republicans, including many neoconservatives,” Hussain wrote. “These arguments could perhaps be respected were it not for the massive, regular, and institutionalized intervention in U.S. political life carried about by the Israeli government and its supporters, which has successfully turned the affairs of a small country on the eastern Mediterranean into one of the most important domestic political issues in America.

“Netanyahu himself has shown no embarrassment about his own intervention in American politics, delivering rapturous speeches lobbying the U.S. Congress to legislate in favor of Israel and essentially endorsing his favored political candidates for office during U.S. elections,” Hussain said. “The Senate majority leader’s comments should not be taken as an effort to engineer a color revolution on the streets of Tel Aviv, but rather a last attempt to prevent Israel from descending to a level of ostracism from which even the U.S. would strain to rescue it.”

What writers in the Middle East are saying.

  • Israeli writers say Schumer’s speech was an improper intrusion on the country’s democratic system.
  • Palestinian writers say the comments were a welcome reprieve from polarizing rhetoric about the war. 

The Jerusalem Post editorial board wrote “don't interfere in Israel's politics.”

“In the complex realm of international relations, the urge to advocate for democracy and peace is noble, but the path to such ideals must be taken carefully, respecting the sovereignty and will of each nation’s people,” the board said. “Schumer’s intentions, rooted in a long history of support for Israel, reflect a genuine desire for peace and stability in the region, but intervening in the political process of another democracy, especially an ally like Israel, raises significant concerns about respect for self-determination and the potential for unintended consequences.”

“While external voices can play a role in encouraging dialogue and peace, the decision-making power ultimately lies with the citizens in question,” the board added. “Most Israelis reject a two-state solution, so promoting one must honor the principles of sovereignty and self-determination. Let’s encourage dialogue, support and cooperation, but also remember the importance of allowing nations to chart their own course democratically.”

In Newsweek, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab said “Schumer's speech gave me hope.”

“The speech wasn't perfect; Schumer denied the Palestinian right of return and compared it to the illegal expansion of Jewish settlements. But it was a powerful move, particularly at this time. Senator Schumer didn't just give lip service to the idea of an independent Palestinian state; he gave theoretical backing to Palestinian peoplehood,” Kuttab wrote. “Schumer's call for a change in Palestinian leadership was similar to his call for the same in Israel, reflecting not interference in anyone's affairs but a correct observation of the aspirations of most Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Palestinians and Israelis are not going anywhere. The only way to reach genuine peace is to understand, respect, and accommodate the legitimate rights of a proud Palestinian people. Radicalism breeds radicalism and moderation begets moderation,” Kuttab said. “The unexpectedly courageous words of Senator Schumer have brought both peoples closer to the reality of peace with justice based on two states for two proud people.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Senator Schumer is right about Netanyahu, and he is right to deliver this speech publicly.
  • We need to live in an era where speaking difficult truths is okay, even if it breaks precedent.
  • There is very little debate about the damage Netanyahu has done, and Israelis should get new elections.

The most important thing about Schumer's speech is that he is right. 

Conservatives often preach to the left about how important it is to say the true thing even when it's difficult or uncomfortable. Ben Shapiro's famous saying that "facts don't care about your feelings" might as well be one of the 10 Commandments on the right, and for good reason. We should be unafraid of saying true things even if they are difficult or offensive. Why would such an ideology or worldview extend right up to foreign policy on Israel and then stop in its tracks?

Here are some facts: Even before October 7, Netanyahu was an unpopular leader facing legitimate accusations of corruption whose policy proposals had become so toxic that Israel was the most divided it had been in decades — with hundreds of thousands of people protesting his leadership on a weekly basis. Under his stewardship, Netanyahu propped up Hamas and undermined the Palestinian Authority in an attempt to buy peace in the region rather than build it. His administration was either so incompetent or so distracted by his attempted judicial overhaul that they failed to deter an attack they'd been warned about a year before.

I didn’t agree with everything Senator Schumer said (it was a 40 minute speech, and you should watch it if you haven’t), but I think he gave a clear-eyed assessment of Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership, and I think he was right to deliver it to the public. 

Some days, when I do this work, I feel quite torn about who is making the strongest argument. But today, many of the arguments from the right have left me feeling a little bit baffled. National Review's editors claimed that what Schumer did was "nothing short of calling for the collapse of a democratically elected government." Noah Rothman said he "tacitly blamed Jews" for defending themselves. Darvio Morrow quoted the Vice Mayor of a conservative religious Jewish suburb of Cleveland saying Schumer has "no right to denounce Israel or its government."

Please. Since when is encouraging elections anti-democratic? He did not call for the collapse of a democratically elected government — he called for democracy. Polling shows quite clearly that Netanyahu is both strongly disliked and distrusted by the Israeli public and that a majority of Israelis want new elections. Saying Israelis should hold another election and hoping that they move on from Netanyahu is not the same thing as exercising a coup. And criticizing Israeli politicians directly is not unlike the way Netanyahu often criticizes American politicians directly

Schumer did not "tacitly blame" Jews. He blamed Netanyahu for his failed policies and the security failures of October 7, which makes him exactly like a huge majority of the Israeli public. And he insisted that peace could not exist with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in power, something Netanyahu obviously agrees with. In fact, much of Schumer’s speech was in line with standard Zionist positions, emphasizing Jews’ right to be in Israel, Hamas’s culpability for civilian deaths in Gaza and inciting this war, and the need for a future with new Palestinian leadership ushered in with the help of Arab partners. 

The idea that Schumer, the Senate majority leader of Israel’s largest ally, has "no right" to speak on those issues or criticize Israel’s government is also patently absurd. As he said at the beginning of his speech, he was speaking for himself, his constituents, and the many Americans and Israelis who agree with him. That his speaking out carries more weight only impacts the power of what he said, not his right to say it. Not only is Schumer a high-ranking American senator who has backed Israel in a nearly unconditional fashion, he is the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress ever, with deep connections to the Jewish state, who has every right to speak on it. If anything, the fact that someone with Schumer’s record on Israel is staking out this position is quite telling.

Perhaps one of the worst arguments — the one made by nearly every commentator criticizing Schumer — is that he shouldn’t be giving this speech during wartime. The idea is that disrupting the politics of Netanyahu’s leadership while Israel tries to defeat Hamas is somehow extra dangerous. The implication is that everyone knows Netanyahu’s political career is over when this war ends, so let him do the job and then deal with it. 

So let me ask this: What is more dangerous, calling for elections during wartime, or a leader whose political future depends on an ongoing war? Netanyahu knows — and these commentators buttress the point — that as long as the war in Gaza goes on he is less likely to be removed. That is all the more reason to put a coalition government in place now whose leader isn’t relying on this conflict to stay in power. Again, Schumer is right. 

And it’s okay for us to speak honestly about these things. It’s okay for us to tell the truth not just about our adversaries, but about our allies and their leaders. The fact that it is "longstanding U.S. policy" (as CNN put it) not to say a critical word about the prime minister of Israel, no matter what is happening, is actually a very bad policy. Being allies doesn't mean being blind to reality. It doesn't mean acquiescing to your partner's every whim. And it doesn't mean unconditional, uncritical support.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently wrote one of the best pieces I've seen about the choices facing Netanyahu and the decisions he's making. He offered Netanyahu a choice to adopt a U.S.-backed strategy, right now, to determine what happens next in Gaza — or capitulate to the small radical right-wing coalition he needs to get re-elected. Barak writes:

If Netanyahu acquiesces to Washington, he risks losing the support of those far-right figures, which would spell the end of his government. If he continues to reject Biden’s approach, Netanyahu risks dragging Israel deeper into the mud in Gaza; sparking a third intifada in the West Bank; entering another war with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militia; deeply damaging relations with the United States, on which Israel relies for munitions, financial support, and crucial diplomatic backing; jeopardizing the so-called Abraham Accords that normalized Israel’s relations with Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates (and the hopes of Saudi Arabia joining the club); and even casting doubt on Israel’s long-standing peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Any one of these outcomes would be dreadful; any combination of them would be a historic disaster.

Right now, Netanyahu is barreling toward the combination of those outcomes — a historic disaster. Schumer is encouraging the Israeli people to stop him — and, again, he's right to. 

I'll even take it a step further: Schumer (or Biden) should continue speaking to the Israeli public like this. They should ramp it up. Any U.S. leader would be perfectly within their rights to give this speech in Israel. In 2015, Netanyahu came to the U.S. on the invitation of a few Republicans and delivered a speech to Congress in an attempt to undercut then-President Barack Obama's negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, one of Obama's signature foreign policy efforts. That was the leader of an allied nation lobbying our government on our own policies.

Now Netanyahu is upset about Schumer giving a speech, not to the Knesset but to the U.S. Senate —  the chamber he is the majority leader of — after everything that has transpired? As I said in my piece advocating for a ceasefire from the Zionist perspective, it is not October 8th anymore. It's been nearly six months. It is okay for us to start talking about the future — and to start holding Netanyahu to account. In fact, it is long overdue.

This is worth saying because it is important: Netanyahu should go down as the worst leader in Israeli history. Even before he oversaw the greatest security failure since its founding, he was on the short list. Now it should be definitive. And his record will only get worse if he continues this response to Hamas's October 7 attack, which is not just decimating Gaza but costing Israel on the world stage, even among its staunchest allies, like New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. 

The sooner the Israeli public gets to have their say, the better. Saying that clearly is the right thing to do — and American officials, especially those who have long been supportive of Israel, should have no fear speaking that truth. 

Take the poll: What do you think of Schumer’s comments on Israel? Let us know!

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Under the radar.

A new idea is gaining steam in the House and Senate: Giving Ukraine a sizable loan to continue its fight against Russia. With a major military package stalled, some notable U.S. members of Congress — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) — seem open to the idea of giving an interest-free, waivable loan to Ukraine. President Biden has asked for $60 billion for Ukraine, with $48 billion of that money getting pumped back into the American defense industrial base, supporting manufacturing and shipping weapons to Ukraine. So these members are instead calling for $12 billion to be given directly to Ukraine as a no- or low-interest rate loan. Politico has the story


  • 64%. The percentage of Israelis who think new elections should be held before the end of the current Knesset's term in 2026.
  • 41%. The percentage of Israelis who say they think Benny Gantz (the leader of Israel’s National Unity Party) would be a better prime minister than Benjamin Netanyahu. 
  • 29%. The percentage of Israelis who say they prefer Netanyahu to Gantz. 
  • 34. The estimated number of seats that Gantz’s National Unity party would win if Israeli elections were held today, according to a new survey from Israel’s Channel 13 News. 
  • 17. The estimated number of seats that Netanyahu’s Likud party would win if elections were held today. 
  • 91%. The percentage of Jewish voters in the U.S. who believe that someone can be critical of Israeli government policy and still be pro-Israel, according to a November 2023 survey from the Jewish Electorate Institute. 

The extras.

Yesterday’s poll: 716 readers took our poll on updates to the Georgia election interference case with 58% in support of removing Wade and dropping charges. “I think the conduct of the judge is the most important part of this: his objectivity, fairness, and bias or lack thereof is critical to the outcome. So far he looks decent,” one respondent said.

What do you think of Schumer’s comments on Israel? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Farming can be a low-margin business — and an environmentally impactful one. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are among farmers’ most economically and environmentally important resources. But a new approach invented by MIT Professor Kripa Varanasi and MIT PhD Vishnu Jayaprakash could help limit that impact. Their process focuses on getting a larger portion of droplets to stick to plant surfaces rather than be lost to runoff, and has already proven successful. “Across the board, we were able to save between 30 and 50 percent on chemical costs and increase crop yields by enabling better pest control,” Jayaprakash says. “By focusing on the droplet-leaf interface, our product can help any foliage spray throughout the year.” MIT has the story

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.