columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Schumer provides cover for Biden’s smears of Israel

The self-proclaimed “shomer” of the Senate is at odds with Israel’s people, not Netanyahu, in order to convince Israel-hating Democrats not to defect.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv a week after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel, Oct. 15, 2023. Credit: Spokesperson's Unit of the Israeli President via Wikimedia Commons.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv a week after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel, Oct. 15, 2023. Credit: Spokesperson's Unit of the Israeli President via Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

In a city packed with cynical opportunists, few people in Washington can match the cynicism and opportunism that are on display when Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks. He’s been in public office continuously since the age of 25, and the 73-year-old Senate Majority Leader has spent his adult life grandstanding for the cameras and the press while always seeking some momentary political advantage as he schemed, back-stabbed and bloviated his way to the top of his profession.

Yet in a career replete with disingenuous rhetoric and Machiavellian maneuvering, nothing Schumer had done before was ever quite as loathsome as his most recent speech on the floor of the Senate. In it, he demanded a change in the government of the State of Israel and for the Jewish state to change its policies on the war against Hamas. He also pushed for post-war policies that the people of Israel adamantly oppose.

That’s not just because the substance of his remarks was deeply misleading in terms of his claims about what the obstacles to peace in the Middle East are, as well as highly inappropriate, especially when you consider how much we Americans resent foreigners interfering in our own political life.

Appeasing the Israel-haters

This was a disgraceful performance because, despite Schumer’s much-ballyhooed stance as Israel’s guardian in Congress, the point of the effort was not to bolster its alliance with the United States or to lend support at a time of unique peril to the Jewish state and a surge in antisemitism in America. To the contrary, his agenda was to lend assistance to the Biden administration’s tilt away from Israel to curry favor with the Democratic Party’s left-wing Israel-haters.

That’s the only reason why a senator supposedly devoted to protecting the Jewish state against its foes would choose this particular moment to launch a full-scale attack on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and essentially call for regime change in Jerusalem. Contradicting both the facts and his rhetoric about loving the Jewish state, he placed equal blame for the lack of peace on Israel’s elected leaders, and drew a moral equivalence between them and the tyrannical Palestinian Authority, in addition to the genocidal Islamists of Hamas.

Exhibiting the sort of insufferable condescension towards the opinions of the Israeli people that is generally the preserve of those who have little sympathy for them, he also backed up Biden’s immoral demand that the Jewish state agree to a Palestinian state as part of a postwar plan—something that would grant a reward to Hamas for having committed the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.

Yet even worse than all that was Schumer’s decision to echo the libelous attacks on Israel being aired by the Biden administration. For Israel’s supposed best friend in Congress to join with the mob of antisemites who have been howling about “genocide” and to validate their unfair smears, coupled with Hamas propaganda about the campaign being waged against it in Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces, was truly beyond the pale.

What could have possibly motivated Schumer to have done this? Unlike the band of Obama administration alumni who run foreign policy for Biden, the senator was not known to hold a grudge against Netanyahu for his opposition to the disastrous 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Nor is he someone who routinely engages in scapegoating Israel, as do some members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

What’s more, he is someone who has condemned the post-Oct. 7 surge in antisemitism. Further, he has acknowledged the reality of the left-wing mobs that have targeted Jews on college campuses and in the streets of American cities while calling for the destruction of Israel and terrorism against Jews wherever they live.

The ‘shomer’ of his own ambition

The only plausible explanation for the speech can be found in the plight of his party’s leader. A week after his hyper-partisan State of the Union speech that Democrats hoped would revive his re-election campaign, President Joe Biden has seen no bump in the opinion polls. His favorability ratings are disastrous for an incumbent hoping for another term. And he’s trailing former President Donald Trump in head-to-head matchups and in surveys where third-party candidates are also considered and in the battleground states that will decide the election.

Part of the problem is the distinct lack of enthusiasm for the president being shown by the party’s left-wing activist base because of their distaste for any support being given to Israel by Biden. A full-scale civil war has been raging inside the Democratic Party over the Israel-Hamas war. That has led administration officials, congressional staffers and even those working on Biden’s re-election campaign to sign petitions demanding that Israel be abandoned.

In response, Biden has sought to appease left-wing Democrats like the pro-Hamas mayor of Dearborn, Mich. But merely talking out of both sides of his mouth about the war while still providing Israel with the arms to fight Hamas has not proven persuasive. Hence, the switch in the last week to an effort to blame Netanyahu for the continuation of the war was part of a vain effort to justify a pivot away from his post-Oct. 7 stance of support for Israel’s efforts to eradicate Hamas.

And that’s where Schumer comes in. As anyone who has covered New York politics in the more than 40 years during which the Brooklyn native has served in both the House and the Senate, Schumer never tires of telling Jewish audiences that a Hebrew translation of his name means shomer or “guardian.” That makes him, he likes to say, a guardian of Israel—a line that is followed with a solemn pledge that he will ensure that no harm comes to the Jewish state on his watch.

Leaving aside the dubious nature of his linguistic claim and whether even an ardent pro-Israel senator should be speaking in a way that validates dual-loyalty smears, this particular piece of schtick has become his calling card for Jewish voters.

That stance was already called into question by his devious behavior during the debate about Obama’s Iran deal. He declared his opposition to a measure that empowered and enriched Israel’s most lethal enemy but then undermined it by declaring that he would take no actions to try to persuade any other senator to join him, thus ensuring that his stance would be seen as meaningless. That helped guarantee the passage of Obama’s policy while also doing no harm to his plan to become Senate Democratic leader in the next Congress. That stance made it obvious that the only thing that he has ever been the shomer of is his own unquenchable ambition.

Appeasing the leftist base

That is the proper context for understanding his speech, which doubles down on Biden’s effort to blame the prime minister for his decision to back away from Israel. At the heart of this dilemma is the way a false narrative about the IDF committing “genocide”—based on the lies of Hamas, a terror organization—has not merely been spread by a corporate media that is deeply biased against Israel but is being validated by statements by Biden and now Schumer.

While the senator paid lip service to the basic truth that Palestinians have rejected peace and started this war with attacks so barbaric that many refuse to believe them, that apparently proved the set-up for a series of smears against both Netanyahu and Israel.

For Schumer to claim, as he did in his speech, that preventing Palestinian casualties should be a higher priority for Israel than defeating Hamas is—despite talk about supporting its right to self-defense—to articulate a policy that would prevent it from exercising that right. To say that it is causing a “humanitarian catastrophe” and that it is “falling short” of upholding “Jewish values” honored by Diaspora Jews like himself is both deeply offensive and a brazen falsehood. Schumer knows that the Israel Defense Forces do far more than any army, including that of the United States, to prevent civilian casualties. And he also knows that Hamas, not Israel, is responsible for everyone harmed in this war.

The speech’s “analysis” of the problems of the Middle East also puts him squarely in the same camp as the very same Israel-bashers that he has previously denounced for legitimizing antisemitic attacks on Jews.

The notion that Oct. 7 was part of a “cycle of violence” that Netanyahu will not act to end is just as wrong. It is a deliberate misreading of what has caused the Palestinians to reject numerous offers of peace and statehood, and to launch terrorist wars like the one that began five months ago with Hamas’s spree of murder, rape, torture and kidnapping in 22 southern Israeli communities.

His advocacy for a two-state solution that would guarantee that Hamas—which, contrary to the mendacious claims of both Biden and Schumer, has the support of most Palestinians—survives doesn’t so much put him at odds with the prime minister as it does with the overwhelming majority of Israelis from one end of the political spectrum to the other. They know firsthand what happens when Palestinian terrorists are granted power; retrying that experiment in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem would be not so much ill-advised as suicidal.

For Schumer to essentially echo the claim that there is some sort of moral equivalence between Netanyahu and his democratically-elected government, and the undemocratic Palestinian leadership that seeks the destruction of the Jewish state and its people, is as malicious as it is wrong.

But the problem here is not just that Schumer is playing Jewish wingman to Biden.

Shifting the blame for the war and the problems with the United States solely on Netanyahu is a way for the pair to signal their party’s activist base that they are on their side. Democratic activists hate Israel because of their indoctrination in critical race theory and intersectionality, which holds that Israel and the Jews are guilty of being “white oppressors.” These “progressives” will never be satisfied with Biden’s “even-handed” stance, though Democrats hope that it will be enough to convince them to turn out to support Biden over Trump in November. Schumer toeing this line gives Biden cover with pro-Israel voters who would normally decry any American leader buying into this kind of false moral equivalence.

Advocating regime change

Yet what made Schumer’s speech truly newsworthy—and appalling—was his open call for a change of government in Israel. While he claimed that he only wanted to give Israel’s people a “choice,” they gave the current coalition a clear majority only 16 months ago. It’s been a stormy term for Netanyahu, and the fact that the Oct. 7 disaster happened on his watch may ultimately end his political career.

But even though Americans like Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to interfere in Israeli politics for decades, never has a U.S. official been so brazen in demanding that Israel’s democratic system bow to Washington’s wishes that it produce a government more amenable to the diktats of the White House on the Palestinians and Iran.

That isn’t merely hypocritical, given the nonstop bleating of Democrats over the past eight years about Russian efforts to intervene in U.S. elections. Schumer thinks that Netanyahu should condemn Israeli politicians who are part of his coalition, like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, because of their extremism. But has Schumer done the same to the antisemitic extremists in his own party of the left-wing “Squad” or sought to expel its members from Congress?

The damage Schumer is doing to the U.S.-Israel relationship is evident from the condemnations that his speech has received across the board from Israelis, including chief Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz. The irony is, as Gantz knows well, that by seeking to oust Netanyahu by unfairly attacking the IDF’s war effort and saving Hamas, as well as by demanding a two-state solution that Israelis from right to left oppose, Biden and Schumer are helping rather than hurting the prime minister. They are making new elections—something that is not going to happen in the middle of a war—even less likely than before.

Treating Israel as a client state that must sacrifice its security for the sake of discredited policies like a two-state solution that has been tried and failed is bad enough when it comes from those who don’t pose as advocates of the Jewish state as Schumer does. Yet his stance is rooted entirely in partisan political interests rather than principle. This is one of the most perilous times in Jewish history, when Jews are being attacked for backing Israel, and others are fighting and dying to ensure that the Jewish state will live. For Schumer to speak in this disgraceful manner and to undermine Israel in wartime for the sake of helping Biden hold onto office is a decision that should permanently associate his name with that of betrayal and dishonor.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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