Nov 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Schumer: Jewish Americans feel "targeted and isolated" since Hamas attack on Israel

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gives remarks at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol Building on Nov. 15. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Jewish official ever elected in U.S. history, decried antisemitism Wednesday in a major Senate speech.

The big picture: Schumer spoke in the wake of a surge in antisemitic as well as anti-Arab and Islamophobic hate crimes in the U.S. since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel.

  • "The rise of antisemitism is a crisis, a five-alarm fire that must be extinguished," he said.

State of play: Schumer shared experiences of Jewish Americans, including those of his great-grandmother and her family who were killed by Nazis in Ukraine, while denouncing antisemitism.

  • He listed attacks against Jewish people throughout history, dating back to the 13th century BCE in Egypt to recent attacks on synagogues, including 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
  • "The Jewish people have been humiliated, ostracized, expelled, enslaved and massacred for millennia," he said.
  • The "Arab-American community is a vital part of our nation and of my city," he said. "And I condemn, unequivocally, any vitriol and hatred against them."

Zoom in: Schumer also clarified that his defense of Jewish Americans was not a defense of Israel's actions in the conflict, an issue that's torn Democrats apart and led to disputes over funding.

  • Schumer said he supports a two-state solution in the Middle East.
  • "We disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his administration's encouragement of militant settlers in the West Bank, which has become a considerable obstacle," he said.
  • He said he does not label criticism of the Israeli government generally as antisemitic.

Of note: Schumer addressed conflicting responses from Jews to the pro-Palestinian chant, "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." He said he believes plenty of people use the chant "not because they hate Jewish people, but because they support a better future for Palestinians."

  • "Can you understand why Jewish people feel isolated when we hear some praise Hamas and chant its vicious slogan? Can you blame us for feeling vulnerable only 80 years after Hitler wiped out half of the Jewish population across the world while many countries turned their back?" he said.
  • Pro-Palestinian advocates say this saying is a call for equality. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American lawmaker in Congress, defended the chant earlier this month, which in part led to her censure.

The bottom line: "No matter where we stand on the war in Gaza, all of us must condemn antisemitism with full-throated clarity wherever we see it, before it metastasizes into something even worse," he said.

Go deeper: Axios Explains: Israel-Hamas war

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