Schumer on U.S. Senate floor condemns 'rank antisemitism' amid Israel-Hamas war

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the nation’s highest-ranking
Jewish official, spoke from the chamber on Wednesday about the rise of
antisemitism in the United States since the attack by Hamas militants on
Israel and that nation’s airstrikes on Gaza.

Schumer, speaking to a mostly empty chamber, an unlikely setting for
what he described as a “major address,” sought to contextualize the
history of the Jewish people and Israel.

The New York Democrat also made clear his comments weren’t meant to
rebuke protesters for speaking out on behalf of civilians who have been
under siege in Gaza or those who have legitimate criticisms about the
Israeli government.

“This speech is not an attempt to label most criticism of Israel and
the Israeli government generally as antisemitic. I don’t believe that
criticism is,” Schumer said. “And this speech is also not an attempt to
pit hate towards one group against that of another.”

“I believe that bigotry against one group of Americans is bigotry against all,” Schumer added.

Speaking in detail about the history of the Jewish people, Schumer
sought to contextualize concerns following the terrorist attack on
Israel in October.

“I want to describe the fears and anxieties of many Jewish Americans
right now, particularly after Oct. 7, who feel there are aspects of the
debate around Israel and Gaza that are crossing over into antisemitism,
rank antisemitism, with Jewish people simply being targeted for being
Jewish,” he said.

Personal story

Schumer detailed his family’s own history with antisemitism as well as that of Jewish people throughout the centuries.

He mentioned several attacks on Jewish people, including the 2018
mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; the attack on
Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany; the
Holocaust; and the enslavement of Jewish people by ancient Egyptians.

In the dozen circumstances he mentioned, Schumer said that “Jewish
people have been humiliated, ostracized, expelled, enslaved and
massacred for millennia.”

Speaking of his great-grandmother, Schumer said that in 1941, Nazi
soldiers told her to gather all the family members on the front porch of
her home in Ukraine, then part of Galicia. Then they gathered all the
town’s other Jewish residents to watch.

“When the Nazis told my great-grandmother, ‘You are coming with us,’
she refused — and they machine-gunned down every last one of them,”
Schumer said. “The babies, the elderly, everybody in between.”

Many Jewish Americans have similar stories that they learned growing
up and that “scar tissue of this generational trauma” impacts how
they’re experiencing antisemitism today, Schumer said.

“We see and hear things differently from others because we are deeply
sensitive to the deprivation and horrors that can follow the targeting
of Jewish people — if it is not repudiated,” Schumer said. “Which brings
me back to today.”

“While many protesters no doubt view their actions as a compassionate
expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people, for many Jewish
Americans, we feel in too many instances, some of the most extreme
rhetoric gives license to darker ideas that have always lurked below the
surface of every question involving the Jewish people.”

Schumer said he believes “there are plenty of people who chant ‘From
the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ not because they hate
Jewish people, but because they support a better future for
Palestinians.”

“But there is no question that Hamas and other terrorist
organizations have used this slogan to represent their intention to
eliminate Jewish people not only from Israel, but from every corner of
the Earth,” Schumer said.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat and the only Palestinian American member of the House, was censured by the House earlier this month for remarks she has made about Israel; Tlaib has defended use of the phrase “from the river to the sea” as “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence.”

Schumer implored Americans to “understand why Jewish people defend
Israel — not because we wish harm on Palestinians, but because we fear a
world where Israel is forced to tolerate the existence of groups like
Hamas that want to wipe out all Jewish people from the planet.”

“We fear a world where Israel, the place of refuge for Jewish people,
will no longer exist,” he added. “If there is no Israel, there will be
no place, no place for Jewish people to go when they are persecuted in
other countries.”

The only two other senators in the chamber for Schumer’s speech were
Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Tina Smith of Minnesota.

McConnell praises Schumer

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, came
to the floor after Schumer’s speech wrapped up to commend his Democratic
colleague for his remarks.

“It was extraordinary,” McConnell said. “I want to compliment him for
providing a history lesson for Americans about the history of the
Jewish people and putting it in context with the conflict that’s
underway.”

McConnell said he shares Schumer’s “disgust at the alarming rise of
antisemitism in America and around the world in the wake of the Oct. 7
attacks.”

“I stand with him in condemning this hatred,” McConnell said. “And I
stand with Israel as it defends, literally, its right to exist.”

The Associated Press reported
Wednesday afternoon that talks continued to extend a temporary truce in
the war during which Hamas has released Israeli hostages and Israel has
released Palestinian prisoners.