Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish-American to ever serve as an elected official in the United States, warned of a “five-alarm fire” from rising antisemitism that must be “extinguished”, in a major speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Mr Schumer, a New York Democrat who has represented the Empire State in the Senate since 1999, said he felt “compelled” to speak because of his status as the top-ranking Jewish elected official in the US.
He also said he wanted to use the platform he has to explain why so many Jewish people have been alarmed by numerous incidents that have taken place amid Israel’s war on Hamas over the last month and a half.
“I want to describe the fears and anxieties of many Jewish Americans right now, particularly after October 7th, who feel there are aspects of the debate around Israel and Gaza that are crossing over into antisemitism, with Jewish people being targeted simply for being Jewish, and having nothing to do with Israel.
“I want to explain, through the lens of history, why this is so dangerous. The normalisation and exacerbation of this rise in hate is the danger many Jewish people fear most. And finally, I want to suggest how and why I hope that all Americans of goodwill can come together and do a better job of condemning such views and behaviour,” he said.
Mr Schumer continued, explaining that there is currently “no question” that antisemitism constitutes “a serious problem in America” today, citing FBI statistics showing that Jewish Americans represent two per cent of the US population but are targeted with 55 per cent of all religiously-motivated hate crimes.
He also recalled how the feeling of solidarity many Jewish Americans felt after the 7 October attacks on Israel was “quickly drowned out by other voices” who spoke in support of the Hamas militants who’d taken hostages and murdered more than 1,000 Israelis.
“While the dead bodies of Jewish Israelis were still warm, while hundreds of Jewish Israelis were being carried as hostages back to Hamas tunnels under Gaza, Jewish Americans were alarmed to see some of our fellow citizens characterize a brutal terrorist attack as justified because of the actions of the Israeli government,” he said. “Even worse, in some cases, people even celebrated what happened, describing it as the deserved fate of quote ‘colonisers’ and calling for quote ‘glory to the martyrs’ who carried out these heinous attacks.
Mr Schumer pointed out that many of those alarming statements came from people and groups who would ordinarily be considered allies in fights against racisim and bigotry against other groups, and cautioned against the “double standard” used by left-wing activists who support national self-determination and statehood — except when exercised by Jews in Israel.
He also slammed activists who would describe Israelis as “oppressors” because Jewish people have “done well” in America, and suggested that younger people who would make such statements “don’t have a full understanding” of the history of anti-semitism in Europe or the US.
“Obviously, many of those marching here in the US do not have any evil intent, but when Jewish people hear chants like ‘From the river to the sea,”’a founding slogan of Hamas, a terrorist group that is not shy about their goal to eradicate the Jewish people, in Israel and around the globe, we are alarmed ... when we see protesters at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade compare the genocide of the Holocaust equivalently to the Israeli army’s actions to defeat Hamas in self-defense of their people, we are shocked,” he said.
“And when we see many people and news organizations remain neutral about the basic absurdity of these claims and actions, we are deeply disappointed.
More than anything, we are worried — quite naturally, given the twists and turns of history — about where these actions and sentiments could eventually lead,” he added.