Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 20 March 2024


Schumer Has Crossed a Red Line Over Israel

His speech last week is evidence that his party is catering to those who are hostile to the Jewish state.

March 20, 2024 5:11 pm ET

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to an aide during a press conference at the Capitol in Washington, March 12. PHOTO: AARON SCHWARTZ/ZUMA PRESS

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last Thursday crossed a political red line that had never before been breached by a leader of his stature and never should be again. In a speech on the Senate floor, he told the people of Israel—one of our closest allies, a true democracy that is at war with an enemy that hates America as well as the Jews—that they should vote their prime minister out of office because “he has lost his way.”

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How does Mr. Schumer think Benjamin Netanyahu lost his way? “By allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel,” he said. I don’t know what Mr. Schumer was trying to accomplish. But if you study polling in the U.S. and Israel, on Mr. Netanyahu personally and on the broader question of how the Israelis are conducting the war in Gaza, it looks as if Mr. Schumer’s statement will have a more significant effect on political opinions in the U.S. than in Israel.

Growing numbers of American voters, including a majority of Democrats, and an organized bloc of leftist senators and representatives, oppose Israel’s war policy in Gaza. In Israel, although Mr. Netanyahu’s personal support has dropped, his policy of fighting in Gaza until Hamas is destroyed has the support of an overwhelming majority. Israelis don’t want the atrocities of Oct. 7 ever to be repeated.

While Mr. Schumer’s statement undoubtedly pleased American critics of Israel, for the Israelis it was meaningless, gratuitous and offensive.

Mr. Schumer ended his argument by lecturing our Israeli friends that if Mr. Netanyahu and his coalition remain in power, “then the U.S. will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israel’s policy by using our leverage to change the present course.” This is a shocking statement that treats Israel differently from other American allies by threatening to intervene in their domestic democratic politics. In making American support for Israel conditional, Mr. Schumer harms Israel’s credibility among its allies and enemies alike.

Mr. Schumer’s statement will have every other democratic ally of the U.S. worrying that America may try to bully our way into its domestic politics. That will diminish our allies’ loyalty to us. Without dependable allies, we will have a much harder time protecting America’s security, prosperity and freedom.

Mr. Schumer has a record of supporting Israel. That makes his equivocation a particularly troubling and disappointing sign that the Democratic Party is catering to members and voters who are hostile to the Jewish state. For most of my public service, Israel enjoyed strong support from Democrats and Republicans alike. If anything, Democrats were the more pro-Israel party. Now Republicans are. That partisan divide isn’t good for Israel, which does best with broad bipartisan support in Washington, or for America, which needs strong alliances.

I enjoyed working with Mr. Schumer during our years in the Senate together. He is an excellent legislative leader and became a personal friend. But in this case, I believe he has made a grievous mistake. I hope he can find a way to say so and then lead his fellow Democrats to support Israel—and the shared values and interests of our two great democracies.

Mr. Lieberman, a Democrat and independent, served as a U.S. senator from Connecticut, 1989-2013.

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