Biden Embraces Schumer’s ‘Good 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” without explicitly endorsing any of the specific criticisms in it or its call for new elections to replace the Israeli leader.

Mr. Biden said that Mr. Schumer, a Democrat from New York and the Senate majority leader, had informed his White House staff in advance of 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 visiting 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 president has staunchly backed Israel’s right to defend itself and respond to the Hamas terrorist attack of Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and has rebuffed calls from inside his own party to cut off the flow of arms or impose conditions on their use. But he has grown increasingly critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s government for its conduct of the war, which has killed more than 30,000 civilians and members of Hamas and resulted in a humanitarian crisis for most of Gaza’s two million residents.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Mr. Schumer 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.”

The senator’s speech touched off a furor in Israel, especially coming from Mr. Schumer, a longstanding Jewish supporter of the Jewish state and ally of Mr. Biden. The fact that the White House knew about it ahead of time raised speculation about whether Mr. Schumer was in a way speaking for the president as well.

Although Mr. Biden on Friday did not repeat any of the particular assertions or recommendations made by the senator, his general embrace of it will inevitably be seen by many as a further rebuke of Mr. Netanyahu and may exacerbate the friction that has already been growing between the two leaders.

Critics in the United States and Israel have complained that Mr. Schumer’s statements amounted to an inappropriate foreign intervention into 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.

Mr. Biden offered his thoughts 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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