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Schumer’s antisemitism speech could have been great

Unfortunately, the majority leader failed to debunk anti-Israel lies and whitewashed “pro-Palestinian” antisemitism.

Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.
Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.
Elizabeth A. Berney
Elizabeth Berney, Esq. is the director of research and special projects at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). The author’s title is for identification purposes only. The views expressed here are the author’s own.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Nov. 29 speech on antisemitism, delivered on the Senate floor, had some great moments. It could have been a truly great speech.

Schumer eloquently expressed Jews’ feelings of abandonment, movingly described antisemitism’s horrors and listed massacres the Jewish people have suffered in Israel, America, Istanbul, Europe and Egypt throughout history.

He beautifully concluded by “implor[ing] every person and every community and every institution to stand with Jewish Americans and denounce antisemitism in all of its forms, especially the double standard that has been wielded against the Jewish people for generations to isolate us. The time for solidarity must be now.”

However, certain aspects of Schumer’s speech were counterproductive.

Antisemitism is based on lies about the Jewish people. A great speech needs to expose those lies. Unfortunately, Schumer failed to do so.

First, much antisemitism today is rooted in the lie that the Israel Defense Forces is targeting civilians. In fact, Israel takes extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties. British military expert Col. Richard Kemp stated that the IDF is “the world’s most moral army” and “does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

A truly great speech on antisemitism would thus praise Israel’s exceptional efforts and record of avoiding civilian casualties, and its steadfast adherence to international law, despite Hamas deliberately enmeshing itself with civilians. A truly great speech would note that Hamas’s barbaric atrocities forced Israel to defend itself, making Hamas solely responsible for every casualty. Was America responsible for the civilians who died during our war against the Nazis?  A great speech would also explain that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets cause a large proportion of Palestinian civilian casualties and that Hamas’s propaganda, parroted by the media, counts combatants as civilians.

But Schumer said none of this.

Instead, Schumer implied that Israel doesn’t protect Palestinian civilians, saying, “My heart breaks for the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been killed or are suffering in this conflict, and I have urged the Israeli government to minimize civilian casualties on many occasions.”

As if that were not enough, Schumer added, “Let me repeat that [Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre] does not relieve Israel of the responsibility to protect innocent Palestinian lives, and I have been among the first to tell Israeli leaders they must act according to international law.”

Israel does not need Schumer’s admonitions. Israel follows international law and minimizes civilian casualties all on its own.

Second, another antisemitic lie is that the peace-loving Jews living on the historic Jewish lands of Judea and Samaria are “extremist settlers” on “Palestinian land.” This dehumanizes Jews as interlopers who don’t belong in their own land and justifies daily attacks on ordinary Jews peacefully living in their homeland.

Unfortunately, Schumer gave credence to these antisemitic accusations. Schumer called Jews living in or defending themselves in Judea-Samaria “militant settlers in the West Bank” who are “a considerable obstacle to a two-state solution.” He also wrongly called Jewish farmers and families who are simply living in the Jewish homeland “extreme right-wing Jewish settlers who also use deplorable language, and who don’t believe there should be any Palestinians between the river and the sea.” Schumer further likened Jewish “settlers” to people using unacceptable “racist dog whistles.”

A great speech on antisemitism would defend the Jewish people’s right to live in peace anywhere in the world, especially in the Jewish heartlands of Judea and Samaria, and would correct anti-“settler” calumnies.

A great speech on antisemitism would also not promote a so-called “two-state solution,” which means creating an Iran-controlled Judenrein Palestinian-Arab terror state on lawful Jewish land along what would then be Israel’s longest border. This would endanger every Jew in Israel.

A great speech on antisemitism would not call “militant settlers” the obstacle to a Palestinian state. Rather, it would explain that the Palestinian Arabs rejected generous “two-state solutions” at least eight times in the past 80 years. In response to these offers, the Palestinian Arabs launched wars and deadly intifadas because their goal is Israel’s destruction, not peace.

Schumer should have decried real “extremism”—namely, the Palestinian Authority’s payment of lifetime pensions to Arabs who murder Jews and its glorification of Jew-killers.

Third, antisemites often pretend they are not antisemitic by claiming that they merely oppose Israel’s “government” and “policies.” Schumer unfortunately enabled this “anti-government” strategy, stating, “We disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his administration’s encouragement of militant settlers in the West Bank.”

Fourth, big lies about Palestinian Arab refugees are another major source of antisemitism. In fact, Israel urged Arabs to stay in Israel in 1948 and did not force Arabs from their homes. It’s well-documented that the Arab authorities ordered and pressured Arabs to leave Israel in anticipation of the invasion of six Arab armies bent on annihilating the reborn Jewish state. Approximately 360,000 Arabs left Israel. There were only 600,000 Arabs in Israel at that time and many remained, as proven by Israel’s large Arab minority. Moreover, most of these Arabs were relative newcomers to Israel, originating from Egypt, Syria and other Arab nations.

Unfortunately, Schumer repeated falsehoods and exaggerations about the Palestinian Arab refugees and understated the 850,000 Jews who were driven out of Arab and Muslim lands after 1948. Schumer said, “Many of those protesting Israeli policy note the at least 700,000 Palestinians displaced or forced from their homes in 1948, but they never mention the 600,000 Mizrahi Jews across the Arab world who were also displaced, whose property was confiscated, whose lives were threatened, who were expelled from their communities.”

Fifth, Schumer whitewashed the “pro-Palestinian movement” as an innocent cause that some antisemites are exploiting, saying, “Antisemites are taking advantage of the pro-Palestinian movement to espouse hatred and bigotry towards Jewish people.”

In fact, the “pro-Palestinian movement” consists of hate groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Within Our Lifetime (WOL), various BDS groups and so on. These groups and their “movement” seek to annihilate Israel’s seven million Jews. They also regularly call for “globalizing the intifada”—meaning attacking and killing all Jews throughout the world. 

Similarly, Schumer stated, “Walking out of school to march in support of Palestinians is completely legitimate.” In fact, those school walkouts and marches support Hamas and antisemitic genocidal terrorism.

Sixth, Schumer spoke of literally crying over a supposed Trump “Muslim ban” (which former President Donald Trump, in fact, never enacted), but ignored that radical Muslims are leading fomenters of antisemitism in America. These include Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib; Linda Sarsour; Hatem Bazian; Fatima Mohammed; Nerdeen Kiswani; Salam al-Marayati; Susan Abulhawa; “Palestine Writes” terror supporters; and thousands of others.

A great speech would at least mention radical Muslim antisemitism, which Muslim reformers acknowledge and are battling. And a great speech would surely condemn by name antisemites who sit in the U.S. Congress.

Finally, great actions should accompany a great speech. Schumer and fellow Democrats should stop blocking the stand-alone Israel aid bill from coming to a Senate vote (the House passed it a month ago) and pass a strong federal anti-boycott bill and the Antisemitism Awareness Act that will help Jewish students suffering from antisemitism on college campuses.

May Majority Leader Schumer’s next speech and actions be truly great.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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