Schumer’s Folly

It’s no secret that among the potential leaders, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyanhu is the most right wing, corrupt and disagreeable Israel has to offer. It seems possible that Bibi’s unpopularity both in Israel and abroad was part of the calculus when Hamas decided to attack on October 7th, as no other prime minister holding the post by the oddity of coalition was as vulnerable to criticism.

And yet, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call for regime change to oust Netanyahu was not only the most tone deaf cry he could have made, causing even Bibi’s many enemies to circle the wagons around him, but feeding into the very thing that Schumer, the highest ranking Jew in the United States government and a staunch supporter of Israel, claimed he wished to prevent.

If you read Schumer’s entire speech, you’ll know it was no sop to progressives. He rejected calls for a permanent cease-fire before Hamas is defeated and called out a strain of antisemitism on the left that believes in the “right to statehood for every group but the Jews.” But he’s clearly trying to keep the Democrats in his caucus — as well as mainstream liberals across America — on Israel’s side by distinguishing between the right of Israel to defend itself and the way Netanyahu has chosen to exercise that right.

I could quarrel with Schumer on some of the particulars of his speech, but I don’t fault his sincerity. He thinks, not without reason, that Bibi is turning the Jewish state into a global pariah and he wants to stop that from happening.

Even Bibi’s worst enemies in Israel came to his defense against Schumer.

Notice what Naftali Bennett, Bibi’s predecessor as prime minister, wrote Thursday on social media: “Regardless of our political opinion, we strongly oppose external political intervention in Israel’s internal affairs. We are an independent nation, not a banana republic.” And Bennett hates Bibi.

After establishing his bona fides as an Israel suppoter, Schumer did what no American official should do openly: call for another country’s regime change. His contention was that Bibi has become “an obstacle to peace.

Israel cannot hope to succeed as a pariah opposed by the rest of the world.

That Netanyahu was almost certainly the worst choice of prime minister for the moment, he is, nonetheless, the prime minister. And he is the prime minister at a time when Israel is in the throes of war against Hamas. Hate Bibi all you want. You’re not alone. But nations do not change their leader in the midst of battle. The focus is on Gaza, on hostages, on the rapes and murders suffered at the hands of Hamas. It’s not the moment for Israel to hold new elections and see if a different coalition forms that would name Benny Gantz prime minister.

But far more importantly, if there were some other, less right wing, less intransigent, less strident, prime minister in office, would it change anything about the way in which Israel was dealing with Gaza? Would they forego the eradication of Hamas for the sake of Gazans, and at the expense of Israelis? Would they embrace President Biden’s call for a two-state solution with a Palestinian state ruled by Hamas?

Patrick: Would another Israeli leader pursue a very different path from Netanyahu?

Bret: When it comes to Gaza, the broad contours of Israel’s policy will be the same whether the prime minister is Netanyahu or any of his plausible rivals or successors — people like Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, or the former Mossad head Yossi Cohen. Nor is there any chance that any of these leaders will agree to a Palestinian state anytime soon, at least not while there’s a possibility Hamas could come to power and Iran continues to arm groups like Hezbollah.

So what then would be accomplished by regime change?

But tone and emphasis matter, and it would help Israel greatly to have a leader who doesn’t automatically cause such a neuralgic reaction in foreign capitals. Bibi has more than outworn his welcome.

Vibes? By donning the mantle of Israel’s staunchest supporter, America’s highest ranking Jew in government, Schumer sought to accomplish two things. The first was to blunt the outrage that the left wing of the Democratic Party has toward Genocide Joe for not backing Gaza as the oppressed against the Apartheid Genocidal Settler Colonial State of Israel. Schumer hoped to shift the focus off Biden and onto Bibi as the bad dude to be blamed. It didn’t work and won’t work.

The second thing, and it remains unclear at the moment as President Biden has yet to say whether he supports or condemns Schumer’s call for regime change, is that Netanyahu has made no pretense of trying to make Biden look good, or at least not awful, by adopting the rhetoric of empathy and conciliation even as Hamas refuses a ceasefire or the release of the Israeli and American (did we forget about them?) hostages in Gaza. If the goal was to trade the unpleasant and uncooperative Bibi for a prime minister who would help shore up Biden’s support with the left fringe, the speech was a miserable failure as Israelis were universally outraged by Schumer’s attempted interference in their domestic politics.

But Schumer’s point, that Israel cannot succeed if it becomes an international pariah, is undeniable. The problem is that Schumer’s speech has now contributed to Israel being viewed as a pariah for defending itself just as any country, most notably including this country, would and did when attacked. Schumer’s speech validated the “free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea” midwits by laying the blame for this travesty on Bibi’s intransigence rather than Hamas’ terrorism. If the world ends up seeing Israel as a pariah, Chuck Schumer will have been a major contributor to its demise.

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