Biden Embraces Schumer’s Speech Castigating Netanyahu

President Biden on Friday praised Senator Chuck Schumer’s address lashing out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, calling it “a good speech” that raised concerns “shared not only by him but by many Americans.”

Even though Mr. Biden did not explicitly endorse any of the specific criticisms in the speech, or Mr. Schumer’s call for elections to replace Mr. Netanyahu, the president’s comments were the latest step in his escalating public critique of the Israeli prime minister.

In private, the two have clashed in a series of phone calls — the last of which was a month ago — but Mr. Biden has been reluctant to publicly split with Mr. Netanyahu.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Schumer said he delivered the speech because “I thought it was important to show even if you strongly disagree with Netanyahu, you can still be a strong ally of Israel.”

There is no indication that the White House was involved in any way in planning the speech.

But sometimes in Washington, the most telling indicator is not a public statement but the absence of one. Mr. Biden could have asked Mr. Schumer to hold back, so that he did not endanger the president’s future ability to deal with Mr. Netanyahu, with whom he now barely speaks. He could have said the United States should not express an opinion on the inner workings of Israel’s democratic processes. He did none of that.

Lawmakers and aides who have spoken with Mr. Biden in recent weeks say his anger at Mr. Netanyahu is now eating away at his reluctance to go public with his critiques. He is angry that Mr. Netanyahu has publicly rejected the administration’s insistence that he restrict bombing campaigns that have killed roughly 30,000 people in Gaza, let in far more aid and plan for a postwar future that does not involve Israel running the territory.

Last week, Mr. Biden was overheard telling a member of Congress that he and Mr. Netanyahu were going to have to have a “come to Jesus” meeting.

Mr. Biden said Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York and the Senate majority leader, had informed his White House staff before the speech in which the senator excoriated Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership of the war against Hamas and concluded that the prime minister risked making Israel a global pariah.

“I’m not going to elaborate on the speech,” Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question as he hosted the Irish prime minister at the White House. “He made a good speech, and I think he expressed a serious concern shared not only by him but by many Americans.”

The day before Mr. Schumer stood in the well of the Senate and delivered his remarks, he called Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, and Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House chief of staff, according to people familiar with the conversation. He asked Mr. Sullivan whether delivering the speech could endanger negotiations over the release of hostages, and was told there was no problem. Mr. Zients offered no political objections.

Mr. Biden has staunchly backed Israel’s right to defend itself and respond to the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack that killed 1,200 people. The president has also rebuffed calls from inside his own party to cut off the flow of arms or impose conditions on their use.

But Mr. Biden has grown increasingly critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s government for its conduct of the war. In his State of the Union address last week, Mr. Biden said that “Israel must allow more aid into Gaza and ensure that humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the crossfire” and that “protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.”

Over the weekend, Mr. Biden hinted — but stopped short of saying — that he could put some restrictions on arms provided to Israel if his cautions were ignored. “It is a red line, but I am never going to leave Israel,” he said, saying that defensive weapons like the Iron Dome, which intercepts incoming rockets, would never be in jeopardy.

But that left open whether he would put limits on how Israel used 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs against targets in Gaza, where the huge explosions cause widespread casualties in an urban environment. Mr. Sullivan deflected questions this week on the president’s thinking, saying that “we’re not going to engage in hypotheticals about what comes down the line, and the reports that purport to describe the president’s thinking are uninformed speculation.”

Mr. Schumer also stopped short of advocating any limits on the weapons Israel is sent. But some of his Democratic colleagues, led by Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, are openly calling for that. A dozen senators have said they are working on an amendment that would require that weapons received by any nation be used “in accordance with U.S. law,” which contains provisions about limiting attacks that could bring collateral damage to civilians.

Still, Mr. Schumer’s speech on Thursday went further than any senior American official has gone in castigating Mr. Netanyahu.

The prime minister has “lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel” and “has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows,” Mr. Schumer said.

He went on to say that he believed “a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel.” That election, he added, should take place “once the war starts to wind down” and would “give Israelis an opportunity to express their vision for the postwar future.”

“Of course, the United States cannot dictate the outcome of an election,” Mr. Schumer continued, “nor should we try. That is for the Israeli public to decide — a public that I believe understands better than anybody that Israel cannot hope to succeed as a pariah opposed by the rest of the world.”

The speech touched off a furor in Israel, especially coming from Mr. Schumer, a longstanding Jewish supporter of the Jewish state and a close ally of Mr. Biden.

After Mr. Biden spoke on Friday, a White House spokesman emphasized that the president was not specifically calling for new elections. “That’s going to be up to the Israeli people to decide,” said the spokesman, John F. Kirby.

Critics in the United States and Israel have complained that Mr. Schumer’s statements amounted to an inappropriate foreign intervention in an ally’s internal democratic politics, one that was particularly egregious coming at a time of war with Israel fighting an enemy bent on its destruction. In the past, however, Mr. Biden’s aides have noted that Mr. Netanyahu has been willing to insert himself in the U.S. political process, notably when he appeared before Congress to oppose the approval of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Mr. Biden offered his thoughts about Mr. Schumer’s speech during a meeting in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland, who himself has been a vocal critic of Israel’s handling of the war. Mr. Varadkar followed through on his promise to raise the matter with Mr. Biden during the annual White House get-together to mark St. Patrick’s Day.

“I want to keep talking about the situation in Gaza as well,” Mr. Varadkar told Mr. Biden. “You know my view that we need to have a cease-fire as soon as possible to get food and medicine in, to get hostages out. And we need to talk about how we can make that happen and move toward a two-state solution, which I think is the only way we’ll have lasting peace and security.”

Biden nodded. “I agree,” he said softly.

Still, Mr. Varadkar came away from his meeting understanding that whatever his own concerns about Mr. Netanyahu’s military operations, Mr. Biden had no intention of interrupting the flow of U.S. munitions and air defenses to Israel.

“The president’s very clear that the U.S. would continue to support Israel and to assist Israel to defend itself, so I don’t think that’s going to change,” Mr. Varadkar told reporters outside the White House after the meeting. “But I think none of us like to see American weapons being used in the way they are. The way they’re being used in the moment is not self-defense.”

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