Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Wednesday that the recent rise in antisemitism across the country is leaving Jewish Americans to feel “left alone,” and that antisemites are “taking advantage of the pro-Palestinian movement to espouse hatred and bigotry toward Jewish people.”
Among those Schumer said antisemites are exploiting are “young people who yearn for justice, unknowingly aiding and abetting their cause.”
In a 40-minute speech on the Senate floor about the hate directed at Jews in the midst of the Israel-Gaza war, Schumer urged those advocating on behalf of Palestinians to learn the history of violence and oppression Jewish people have faced for centuries.
“I am speaking up to issue a warning informed by lessons of history, too often forgotten,” said Schumer, who is Jewish. “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.”
Schumer listed attacks on Jewish people throughout history: from ancient attacks in Egypt through the Nazi regime in World War II, the 1972 killings and kidnappings of Israelis at the Munich Olympics to an event last week at Hillcrest High School in Queens, where students targeted a Jewish teacher. That teacher, whom Schumer declined to name, was in the Senate chamber for the speech at the majority leader’s invitation. “I am truly honored that she accepted my invitation,” Schumer said. “That is true courage.”
The remarks Wednesday morning followed an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times, in which he said many Jewish people consider the rise of antisemitism “a five-alarm fire.” Schumer’s warnings about antisemitism come as Democrats face increasing tension within the party over support for a cease-fire in the war and calls to curb or add conditions to additional U.S. aid to Israel.
President Biden has faced a backlash from young voters, and even from some younger staffers, over his handling of the war.
Last month, about 300 people were arrested after protesting inside the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, demanding Congress pass a cease-fire resolution. Stefanie Fox, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, which organized the protest, criticized Schumer’s speech for blaming the wrong people for antisemitism.
“At a time when white supremacists and white nationalists take advantage of this moment to sow confusion and promote antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism, misstating what antisemitism is harms all of our work for justice and endangers our communities,” Fox said in a statement to The Washington Post. “This is reprehensible.”
Notably, Schumer cautioned in his speech that “many” of the people expressing antisemitism in America were “people that most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.” After referring to protests against violence directed toward Black, Hispanic, and Asian people, as well as members of the LGBTQ community, Schumer said that “in the eyes of some, that principle does not extend to the Jewish people.”
After the speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Schumer’s remarks “extraordinary.”
Waleed Shahid, a former spokesman for the group Justice Democrats, criticized Schumer’s op-ed for not paying more attention to rising Islamophobia and the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. Shahid wrote on social media before Schumer’s speech that the senator represents a large Muslim and Arab population in New York and should speak about “both antisemitism and rising anti-Palestinian racism in his own backyard.”
On the Senate floor, Schumer said that his “heart breaks for the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been killed or are suffering in this conflict.” But the ultimate blame, he said, belonged with Hamas, which “knowingly invited an immense civilian toll during this war.”