Netanyahu’s Time Is Up According To Chuck Schumer

Heather Cox Richardson

This morning, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the highest-ranking Jewish officials in the U.S. government, said Israelis need to call new elections to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, Schumer said, “has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel.” Schumer, who is a strong ally of Israel and who also blamed Hamas for the crisis in the Middle East, warned that the deadly toll on civilians in Gaza under the policies of Netanyahu’s government is “pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

Netanyahu needs to hold his far-right coalition together to escape the corruption trial in which he is currently at risk, and that coalition wants continued attacks on Hamas. Netanyahu has announced that Israel’s forces are planning to invade the city of Rafah, where about 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, despite President Joe Biden’s warning that such an invasion must have a plan to protect civilians “that was actually planned, prepared and implementable.” 

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is so bad that the U.S. and other countries are conducting airdrops of essential relief—airdrops are a poor substitute for land-based aid—and Netanyahu’s government has rejected the call of neighboring Arab states, the U.S., and the European Union for a real path to a Palestinian state, instead trying to prevent such a state by pushing more settlements in the West Bank. On a hot mic at the State of the Union address last Tuesday, Biden told Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO): “I told him, Bibi…you and I are going to have a come to Jesus meeting,” slang for a moment that precipitates a major change.  

Netanyahu’s far-right government is deeply unpopular in Israel. In January, only 15% of Israelis wanted him to keep his job after the war on Hamas ends, and three days ago the U.S. intelligence community assessed in its annual report on the threats facing the United States that “[d]istrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has deepened and broadened across the public from its already high levels before the war, and we expect large protests demanding his resignation and new elections.” It concluded: “A different, more moderate government is a possibility.” Centrist political rival Benny Gantz has visited the U.S. and the U.K. recently. 

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may,” Schumer said. “But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice.”

Netanyahu has forged strong ties in the U.S. with Republicans; in 2015 he spoke before Congress at the invitation of Republicans in an attempt to undermine then-president Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran to stop that country’s development of nuclear weapons. Today, Republicans slammed Schumer’s speech. House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said: “We need to be standing with Israel. We need to give our friends and allies our full support.”

In Hungary today, the U.S. ambassador launched a similar pushback against a far-right leader whose personal interests are driving his country’s policies. 

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hungary’s joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). U.S. Ambassador David Pressman used the occasion to warn Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán that the United States has lost patience with his embrace of Russian president Vladimir Putin, his undermining of support for Ukraine, and his open advocacy of Trump’s return to the White House. 

Pressman noted that the U.S. and Hungary have long historic ties, reaching all the way back to the American Revolution and the influence of revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth—who is one of two foreign leaders whose busts are in the U.S. Capitol—on the defense of democracy in the years before the Civil War. “What unites these connections between our two nations is the shared longing of our peoples for liberty and democracy,” Pressman said. 

When Hungary joined NATO in 1999, Pressman noted, Viktor Orbán was prime minister, and he was proud of the country’s democratic future aligned with a transatlantic community of democracies. Now, he said, Hungary’s choices are increasingly isolating it from its friends and allies. 

“We cannot ignore it when the Speaker of Hungary’s National Assembly asserts that Putin’s war in Ukraine is actually ‘led by the United States,’” Pressman said. “We cannot ignore a sitting minister referring to the United States as a corpse whose nails continue to grow. We can neither understand nor accept the Prime Minister identifying the United States as a ‘top adversary’ of our Ally, Hungary. Or his assertion that the United States government is trying to overthrow the Hungarian government—literally, to ‘defeat’ him.” 

“While the Hungarian government’s wild rhetoric in state-controlled media may incite passion, or ignite an electoral base, the choice to issue, on a daily basis, dangerously unhinged anti-American messaging is a policy choice, and it risks changing Hungary’s relationship with America,” Pressman said.    

The ambassador called out Orbán’s “systematic takeover of independent media,” the use of government power to “provide favorable treatment for companies owned by party leaders or their families, in-laws, or old friends,” and law defending “a single party’s effort to monopolize public discourse.” “[T]his is not something we expect from allies,” Pressman said. The U.S. seeks to engage through dialogue and is willing to speak honestly, he said, but he warned that the U.S. is ready “to act in response to choices the government is making.”

“Hungary’s allies are warning Hungary of the dangers of its close and expanding relationship with Russia,” Pressman said. “If this is Hungary’s policy choice—and it has become increasingly clear that it is with the Foreign Minister’s sixth trip to Russia since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and with his next trip to Russia scheduled in two weeks, following his engagement with Russia’s Foreign Minister earlier this month, and the Prime Minister’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in China—we will have to decide how best to protect our security interests, which, as Allies, should be our collective security interests.”

Pressman called out Orbán for his open support for Trump—Orbán visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago last week and has repeatedly expressed his hope that he will be returned to the White House—and his active participation in U.S. partisan political events. Orbán is a darling of the far right and has appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) more than once.  

“While Hungary attempts to wait out those it disagrees with, whether in the United States or the European Union, the rest of the world is moving forward,” Pressman said. “While the Orbán government may want to wait out the United States Government, the United States will certainly not wait out the Orbán administration. While Hungary waits, we will act,” he said. 

“[W]e want what polls consistently show the vast majority of Hungarians want: a close relationship between the United States and Hungary, rooted in democratic values and shared security and prosperity. Exactly what the Prime Minister said he wanted 25 years ago,” he said. “And that is what we still want today.”    

The U.S. has pledged to defend member states in the family of democracies, Pressman said, and while Hungary tied itself to those democracies 25 years ago, “this government’s actions and rhetoric make it sound like it does not feel so firmly anchored. The United States would not be acting as your ally if we did not forthrightly express concern about the course Hungary is charting, through rough seas of its own choosing. We anchored together 25 years ago as democratic Allies; it remains our hope that we sail forward together as part of a stronger, and now larger, democratic Alliance—a choice that remains up to Hungary, its government and its people.”  

Leave a Reply