Biden backs top Democrat calling for Israeli election

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President Joe Biden expressed support for top Democrat Chuck Schumer after he gave a speech castigating Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Schumer, the Senate majority leader said on Thursday that Israel should hold elections to replace Mr Netanyahu.

Without explicitly endorsing the election call, Mr Biden on Friday praised Mr Schumer for “a good speech”.

“I think he expressed a serious concern shared not only by him but by many Americans,” Mr Biden said.

The president’s remarks, made during an Oval Office meeting with Ireland’s prime minister, could widen a growing rift between Israel and its closest ally.

Washington leaders from both parties, including President Biden, had mostly refrained from criticising how Mr Netanyahu has handled the conflict in Gaza, which began when Hamas gunmen stormed into southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 250 others hostage.

But the president has become increasingly critical of Mr Netanyahu and his government’s handling of the crisis. Last month, Mr Biden made his sharpest critique so far, calling Israel’s military response in Gaza “over the top”. Vice-president Kamala Harris then called for an “immediate cease-fire” for at least six weeks.

The comments from Mr Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in US government, marked a further escalation of these tensions.

Mr Schumer, a long-time supporter of Israel, said the Israeli leader was allowing “his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel”.

Israel, Mr Schumer added, risked becoming an international “pariah” under Mr Netanyahu.

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Israel’s leaders were quick to reproach the senator, with Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party saying Israel is not a “banana republic” and that the prime minister’s policies are “supported by a large majority”.

“It is expected of Senator Schumer to respect Israel’s elected government and not undermine it,” the party said.

More than 30,000 Palestinians – the majority of them children and women – have now been killed in Gaza since 7 October, the Hamas-run health ministry said last month.

The actual number of dead is likely to be far higher as the count does not include those who have not reached hospitals, among them thousands of people still lost under the rubble of buildings hit by Israeli air strikes.

The Israel-Gaza war and escalating humanitarian crisis is expected to loom large over the US presidential election in November, where voters are split on Israel’s approach to the conflict. According to a December survey from Pew Research Center, 27% of Americans overall, and 42% of Democrats, say Israel is “going too far”.

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