What Schumer and Biden Got Right About Netanyahu

One of my ironclad rules of journalism is this: When you see an elephant flying, don’t laugh, don’t doubt, don’t sneer — take notes. Something very new and important is happening and we need to understand it.

Last week, I saw an elephant fly: The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer — an authentic, lifelong supporter of Israel — gave a speech calling on Israelis to hold an election as soon as possible in order to dump Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right cabinet.

That was one big flying elephant. And it produced predictable responses from the Jewish right (Schumer is a traitor), from Netanyahu (Israel is “not a banana republic”) and from cynics (Schumer’s just cozying up to the Democratic left). All predictable responses, and all wrong responses.

The right response is a question: What has gone so haywire in the U.S.-Netanyahu relationship that it would drive someone as sincerely devoted to Israel’s well-being as Chuck Schumer to call on Israelis to replace Netanyahu — and have his speech, which was smart and sensitive, praised by President Biden himself as a “good speech” outlining concerns shared by “many Americans”?

Israelis and friends of Israel ignore that basic question at their peril.

The answer has to do with a profound shift in U.S. politics and geopolitics when it comes to the Middle East — a shift that the Gaza war exposed, and a shift that has made Netanyahu’s refusal to articulate any vision for Israeli-Palestinian relations based on two states for two people a threat to both Biden’s foreign policy goals and re-election chances.

Before I explain why, I want to be very clear about one thing that Schumer and Biden have also made clear: The war in Gaza was forced on Israel by a vicious attack by Hamas on Israeli border communities, populated by the most dovish Israelis in the country’s political spectrum. If you are calling for a “cease-fire now” in Gaza and not a “cease-fire and hostage release now,” it’s making the problem worse. Because it just feeds Israelis’ fears that the world is against them, no matter what they do.

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