Updated Mar 17, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Netanyahu won't commit to elections, calls Schumer's speech "inappropriate"

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waits for the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waits for the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to commit to holding new elections once the war in Gaza winds down during an interview with CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, rebuking the call from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week.

Why it matters: Recent polls in Israel showed that more than 65% of Israelis support early elections when the war is over, and that if elections were held today Netanyahu and his coalition would be defeated.

  • Netanyahu's critics in the U.S. and Israel say he is prolonging the war for political reasons to delay public protests and calls for his ouster.
  • An annual report from the Director of National Intelligence found deepening "distrust of Netanyahu's ability to rule" and some intelligence services expect large protests demanding Netanyahu's resignation and new elections in the coming weeks and months.

Driving the news: On Saturday evening, thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv calling for new elections.

  • Several thousand people also demonstrated in the northern city of Haifa.

Yes, but: The protest movement against Netanyahu is still relatively limited with most Israelis too consumed by the war.

What they are saying: Netanyahu was asked four times by CNN's Dana Bash about the polls and whether he would commit to calling for a new election once the war winds down as Schumer suggested.

  • The Prime Minister dodged the questions again and again, first claiming the polls Bash cited regarding dwindling support are inaccurate and then saying "the Israeli people will decide."
  • Netanyahu also said Schumer's comments in his Senate speech were "totally inappropriate."
  • "It's inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there. That's something the Israeli public does on its own, we're not a banana republic. I think the only government we should be working on to bring down now is the terrorist tyranny, the Hamas tyranny," he said.
  • During an Israeli cabinet meeting held before the CNN interview, Netanyahu said that there are elements in the international community who are trying to stop the war now before all of Israel's goals have been achieved.
  • "They are doing so by means of an effort to bring about elections now, at the height of the war. They are doing this because they know that elections now will halt the war and paralyze the country for at least six months. We cannot, and will not, succumb to this pressure," he told Bash on CNN.

The other side: Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who Bash interviewed immediately after Netanyahu on "State of the Union" backed Schumer's comments, and stressed that Netanyahu's interview proved the Senate majority leader was right.

  • "The prime minister's presentation proved the necessity of Chuck Schumer's speech. Chuck Schumer's speech was an act of courage, an act of love for Israel, and I wish the prime minister would read the whole speech," she said.
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) also defended Schumer's speech Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" saying, "I think people should listen to his entire speech. Senator Schumer's speech came from his heart, what he believes is necessary for peace. He's very clear about, Hamas needs to be eliminated, that there can be no peace in the Middle East for either the Palestinians or the Israelis with Hamas."
  • "I think he was very clear that it's the Israelis, their system, need to give clear direction as to who they want to be their leaders," Cardin said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with quotes from Nancy Pelosu and Ben Cardin.

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