Senate Majority Leader Schumer warns of rising antisemitism as he pushes for Israel aid
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the highest-ranked Jewish elected official in the U.S., warned Wednesday that antisemitism in the country has reached levels unseen in generations and called on fellow Democrats to clearly condemn it.
Schumer’s remarks during a nearly 45-minute speech on the Senate floor come at a sensitive time in the Israel-Hamas war. The Biden administration is engaged in delicate negotiations for the release of hostages held by Hamas militants and a cease-fire extension, Democratic senators are increasingly calling for the imposition of humanitarian conditions on a military aid package for Israel, and the left wing of the party has demonstrated a surge in support for Palestinians.
Schumer is carefully navigating the moment, but said it was time for a clear-throated denouncement of the antisemitism that has flared in the U.S. and Europe ever since the militant group Hamas stormed into Israel last month.
“The vitriol against Israel in the wake of Oct. 7 is all too often crossing a line into brazen and widespread antisemitism the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations in this country, if ever,” the New York Democrat said.
The Anti-Defamation League has recorded a nearly quadruple increase in antisemitic incidents since the onset of the war. The Biden administration has called on universities to fight an “alarming rise” in antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Schumer added that because many of the incidents targeting Jewish people have occurred alongside left-wing demonstrations against Israel, liberal Jewish people “are feeling singled [out], targeted and isolated.” He specifically called out the phrase “from the river to the sea,” saying it alarms Jewish people to hear it used.
“In many ways, we feel alone,” Schumer said.
It was an emotional moment for the senator. He told the Associated Press he spent days over the Thanksgiving holiday writing the speech. In an interview, he said his position as the highest-ranked Jewish elected official in the country’s history “called on me to do this speech.”
“It would have been a dereliction of my duty, not only to my Jewish origins, but to America, not to give this speech,” Schumer explained.
The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants has taken a personal toll on Schumer. This week, after watching video of atrocities committed during the attack, he had to sit in silence in his office for half an hour.
“I just sat, thought, let it all sink in,” he said.
In his speech, Schumer called on Israel to protect civilians in the Palestinian territories, expressed support for a two-state solution in the Middle East and criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But he also argued that liberals have applied a “double standard” to Israel.
“When Hamas terrorists actively hide behind innocent Palestinians, knowing that many of those civilians will die in the Israeli response: Why does the criticism for any civilian deaths seem to fall exclusively on Israel and not at all on Hamas?”
The House this month censured Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who is the only Palestinian American in Congress, for her criticism of Israel. Part of the censure resolution cited her use of the phrase “from the river to the sea.” The censure vote divided Democrats, with more than 20 of them joining Republicans to support censure but others standing with Tlaib as she was formally admonished.
Now Schumer is guiding the Senate as lawmakers weigh the White House’s request for military aid to allies, including $14.5 billion for Israel. The package would also include $9.15 billion for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and other places.
Democratic senators have increasingly called for the White House to pressure Israel to change its tactics to minimize civilian harm in the war.
“We need to find a better path toward helping Israel achieve legitimate military and security objectives,” Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Jack Reed of Rhode Island said in a statement. “U.S. assistance has never come in the form of a blank check — regardless of the recipient.”
Schumer urged caution on placing conditions on aid, saying that they could potentially hamper the ability to drastically reduce Hamas’ threat, free hostages, deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza and encourage Israel to minimize civilian deaths.
Top Republicans have already rejected the idea of attaching specific conditions for the aid package to Israel, as the U.S. does with aid to other allies. Schumer this week also seemed to tamp down expectations that conditions could be included, saying that any final package would need to be “bipartisan.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complimented Schumer’s speech Wednesday, saying it provided a “history lesson for Americans about the Jewish people.”
“I share his disgust at the alarming rise in antisemitism in America and around the world,” he said.
Schumer said that any security or flourishing for Jewish people often feels tenuous after a long history of oppression.
“For Jewish people all across the world, the history of our trauma going back many generations is central to any discussion about our future,” he said.
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