Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks at the 2019 AIPAC conference

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2019.

(Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As Schumer Slams Netanyahu, Palestine Defenders Want 'Action From Democrats, Not Words'

"What we want to see is actual change in policy," stressed Dearborn, Michigan Mayor Abdullah Hammoud.

While welcoming remarks by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an obstacle to peace and hinting at a possible shift in policy if far-right extremists continue to run the Middle Eastern country, Palestine defenders on Thursday stressed the need for Democrats to push for the Biden administration to stop arming Israel's genocide in Gaza.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he believes Netanyahu—who is facing corruption, bribery, and fraud charges—"has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel."

Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish American elected official, criticized Netanyahu for including far-right extremists such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in his Cabinet, and said that "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."

"Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah," the senator said. "If Prime Minister Netanyahu's current coalition remains in power after the war begins to wind down and continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing U.S. standards for assistance, then the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change the present course."

Responding to Schumer's speech, former Democratic Ohio state Sen. Nina Turnerattributed Schumer's "narrative shift" to "every organizer and activist working tirelessly for peace and humanity."

Abdullah Hammoud, the Democratic mayor of Dearborn, Michigan—the largest U.S. city with a majority Arab population—said on CNN that "words are not enough, what we want to see is actual change in policy."

"It's extremely important for President [Joe] Biden to utilize the leverage that he currently has in restricting military aid... and call not for a temporary cease-fire, but a permanent and lasting cease-fire... that can make a difference today," added Hammoud, who backed the campaign urging Michiganders to vote "uncommitted" in the key swing state's Democratic presidential primary last month.

Layla Elabed, campaign manager of Listen to Michigan—the group behind the "uncommitted" effort—said that "we are looking for action from Democrats, not words."

"Schumer is beginning to shift but far too slowly and with little substance for what actions Biden can take now to stop the outrageous civilian death toll in Gaza," she continued. "Schumer hints at using U.S. leverage against Israel's dangerous policies, yet Netanyahu already violates American policies and values under Biden's watch. How many children in Gaza will be killed by Israeli bombs before Schumer demands an end to U.S. weapons aid?"

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wondered, "What's the strategy here?"

"First, you arm Israel to the teeth, protect it when it commits war crimes, shield it from all international pressure, and NOW you worry it has become a pariah?" he said.

Schumer's remarks are a stark departure from his message in a speech earlier this week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Congressional Summit, when the senator—who has taken more than $1.7 million in cumulative campaign contributions from the pro-Israel lobby— called supporting Israel "an obligation I feel deep within my soul."

"We will always have Israel's back," he added.

Following Schumer's Thursday remarks, AIPAC said on social media that "Israel is an independent democracy that decides for itself when elections are held and chooses its own leaders."

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog also addressed Schumer's comments, without explicitly mentioning the senator: "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. It is counterproductive to our common goals."

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—who has taken nearly $2 million in career campaign contributions from AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups—called Schumer's remarks "grotesque and hypocritical."

However, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the senator's speech "is proof that Netanyahu is losing our best supporters in the U.S."

Schumer's shift comes amid Israel's 160-day assault on Gaza, which has killed or maimed more than 111,000 Palestinians, including thousands of people believed dead and buried beneath rubble. Most of the dead are women and children. Around 90% of the besieged strip's 2.3 million people have been displaced, and disease and deadly starvation are spreading as Israel blocks humanitarian aid from entering Gaza. Palestine advocates say Israel is failing to obey a January order from the International Court of Justice to avoid genocidal acts in Gaza.

"Time is running out for Israelis and Palestinians and also for Biden's chances at reelection."

Groups like Listen to Michigan have warned Biden and congressional Democrats of the electoral risks of failing to use U.S. leverage to push Israeli leaders more forcefully for a Gaza cease-fire. Hundreds of thousands of Democratic primary voters have selected "uncommitted" or similar language on their ballots, including in key swing states narrowly won by Biden in 2020.

"Time is running out for Israelis and Palestinians and also for Biden's chances at reelection," warned Elabed. "Uncommitted voters have been demanding that Democratic Party leaders like Schumer call for a permanent cease-fire and an end to weapons aid to a far-right Israeli government that bombs Palestinian civilians and has already violated decades of U.S. policy and international law by expanding settlements into Palestinian territory."

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