WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat who is the highest-ranked Jewish elected official in the US, warned Wednesday that antisemitism in the United States has reached levels unseen in generations and called on his fellow Democrats to clearly condemn it.
Schumer’s remarks during a nearly-45 minute speech on the Senate floor come at a sensitive time in the Israel-Hamas war. The Biden administration is engaged in delicate negotiations to release hostages held by Hamas and extend a temporary truce, Democratic senators are increasingly calling to attach humanitarian conditions on a military aid package for Israel, and the left-wing of the party has demonstrated a surge in support for Palestinians.
Schumer is carefully navigating the moment, but said it was time for a clear-throated denouncement of the antisemitism that has flared in the US and Europe ever since Hamas sparked war with its murderous onslaught in Israel last month, in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted some 240, including young children and elderly people.
“The vitriol against Israel in the wake of October 7 is all too often crossing a line into brazen and widespread antisemitism the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations in this country, if ever,” Schumer said.
The Anti-Defamation League has recorded a nearly-quadruple spike in antisemitic incidents since the onset of the war. The Biden administration has also called on universities to fight an “alarming rise” in antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Schumer added that because many of the incidents targeting Jewish people have come alongside left-wing demonstrations against Israel, liberal Jewish people “are feeling singled, targeted and isolated.” He specifically called out the phrase “from the river to the sea,” saying it alarms Jewish people to hear it used.
“In many ways, we feel alone,” Schumer said.
The House earlier this month censured Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who is the only Palestinian-American in Congress, for her criticism of Israel. Part of the censure resolution cited her use of the phrase “from the river to the sea.” The censure vote divided Democrats, with over 20 of them joining Republicans to support censure but others standing with Tlaib as she was formally admonished.
In his speech, Schumer called on Israel to protect civilians in Palestinian territories, expressed support for a “two-state solution” in the Middle East as well as criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank, But he also argued that liberals have applied a “double-standard” to Israel.
“When Hamas terrorists actively hide behind innocent Palestinians, knowing that many of those civilians will die in the Israeli response. Why does the criticism for any civilian deaths seem to fall exclusively on Israel and not at all on Hamas?”
Schumer is guiding the Senate as lawmakers weigh the White House’s request for military aid to allies, including $14.5 billion for Israel. The package would also include another $9.15 billion for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and other places.
The attack by Hamas has often taken a personal toll on Schumer. He said this week that after watching video of atrocities committed during the attack, he had to sit in silence in his office for half an hour.
Democratic senators have increasingly called for the White House to pressure Israel to minimize civilian harm in the war.
“We need to find a better path toward helping Israel achieve legitimate military and security objectives,” said Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Jack Reed of Rhode Island in a statement. “US assistance has never come in the form of a blank check — regardless of the recipient.”
Top Republicans have already rejected the idea of attaching specific conditions for the aid package to Israel, as the US does with aid to other allies. Schumer this week also seemed to tamp down expectations that conditions could be included, saying that any final package would need to be “bipartisan.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell complimented Schumer’s speech Wednesday, saying it provided a “history lesson for Americans about the Jewish people.”
“I share his disgust at the alarming rise in antisemitism in America and around the world,” he said.
Schumer said that any security or flourishing for Jewish people often feels tenuous after a long history of oppression.
“For Jewish people all across the world, the history of our trauma going back many generations is central to any discussion about our future,” he said.