By Charles E. Schumer
November 29, 2023
Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York, is the Senate majority leader.
Fifty-three days ago, citizens of Israel suffered a horrendous attack orchestrated and executed by Hamas.
The solidarity that Jewish Americans initially received from our fellow citizens in the aftermath of Oct. 7 has since waned, drowned out by other, more disturbing voices, even from some we considered allies, while hate crimes against Jews have skyrocketed.
Today, too many Americans are exploiting arguments against Israel and leaping toward a virulent antisemitism. The normalization and intensifying of this rise in hate is the danger many Jewish people fear most.
Since Oct. 7, Jewish-owned businesses that have nothing to do with Israel have been boycotted and vandalized. Jewish students on college campuses have been harassed and assaulted with alarming frequency. A Jewish high school teacher in Queens told me about being forced to hide in a locked office from student protesters who were demanding that she be fired because she attended a rally supporting Israel.
These are just a few examples, but they point to a troubling trend. Too often in Jewish history, legitimate criticism of Israeli policies or even older disputes over religious, economic and political issues have often crossed over into something darker, into attacking Jewish people simply for being Jewish.
What happened last week at the Queens high school is an example of crossing that threshold. Walking out of school to march in support of Palestinians is completely legitimate. But forcing a Jewish teacher to hide because she had attended a rally in support of Israel is antisemitism, pure and simple.
For many Jewish people today, the rise of antisemitism is more than a crisis — it’s a five-alarm fire. That’s why I feel compelled to speak out, especially considering the growing disparity between how Jewish people understand the rise of antisemitism, and how many of my non-Jewish friends regard it.
While American Jews have always been wary of the hatemongers lurking on the edges of our society, we are proud to be American, because in this country, unlike so many others, our ancestors were able to put down roots and flourish.
Take my own family story. Only in America could an exterminator’s son grow up to be the first Jewish party leader in the Senate.
But many of my family members elsewhere met more tragic ends.
When I was a boy, I learned what happened when the Nazis invaded my family’s town in Ukraine. The Nazis ordered my great-grandmother to gather her extended family on the porch of her home. When the Nazis told her to come with them, she refused, and they gunned her down, along with all 30 members of her family, from 85 years old to 3 months old.
When I heard the story of what Hamas and its allies did in Kibbutz Be’eri, killing more than 120 Jews, from the elderly to babies, it struck me on a deeply personal level.
Most Jewish Americans have similar stories — stories we learned at a young age, and that will stay imprinted on our hearts for as long as we live.
We see and hear things differently from others because we understand the horrors that can follow the targeting of Jewish people. We’ve learned the hard way to fear how such attacks can easily erupt into widespread antisemitism if they are not repudiated. I am sure Arab Americans have similar fears when they see the rise in Islamophobia and horrific crimes like the gut-wrenching murder of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume.
Of course, criticizing the Israeli government is not inherently antisemitic. Over the years, I have vehemently disagreed with many of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, especially his administration’s encouragement of settlements in the West Bank, gravely harming prospects for a two-state solution, which I support. I have also been among those who have said Israel must act according to international law, and that humanitarian assistance for Palestinians is critical.
But when criticism against Israel is allowed to cross over into something different — into a denial of a Jewish state in any form, into open calls for the very destruction of Israel, while at the same time the self-determination of other peoples is exalted — that is an example of the discriminatory double standard Jewish people have always found so hurtful. And we worry about what could come next.
Because for centuries, what is good for everybody else has been too often denied to the Jew. Jews could live here but not there; Jews could hold this job but not that.
And to declare that only the Jewish people cannot have their own state, in any form, is a glaring example of that double standard Jewish Americans so fiercely object to.
I implore every person and every community and every institution to stand with Jewish Americans, and to denounce antisemitism in all of its forms. Americans are stewards of the flames of liberty, tolerance and equality that warm our melting pot and make it possible for Jewish Americans to prosper alongside Palestinian Americans as well as every other immigrant group.
America has always been exceptional. But when it matters most, are we still a nation that can defy the course of human history, where the Jewish people have been ostracized, expelled and massacred over and over again?
I believe the answer can and must be a resounding yes.
And I will do everything in my power — as Senate majority leader, as a Jewish American, as a citizen of a free society, as a human being — to make it so.