A defining moment for Israel policy, courtesy of Chuck Schumer

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By journalsofus.com


On 44 minutes carefully written On the Senate floor Thursday, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke about his Jewish identity, his love for the State of Israel, his horror at the senseless slaughter of Israelis on October 7, and his views on the allotment of blame. for the massacre in Gaza, saying that they are first and foremost the work of Hamas terrorists.

Then Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat and the highest-ranking elected Jew in American history, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuIt was an impediment to peace and called for new elections in the only Jewish state in the world.

The opposition was not so thorough.

Within minutes, House Republican leadership demanded an apology. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, using Netanyahu’s nickname, declared: “Make no mistake: the Democratic Party does not have an anti-Bibi problem. “He has an anti-Israel problem.” And the Republican Jewish Coalition proclaimed that “the most powerful Democrat in Congress stabbed the Jewish state in the back.”

The months following the October 7 massacre and the resulting calamitously deadly war in Gaza have been unbearable for American Jews, caught between a tradition of liberalism that has dominated much of Jewish politics and an anti-Israel response from the political left. . That has left many feeling isolated and, at times, persecuted.

But Schumer’s speech was potentially a defining moment in a much longer political process, initially driven by Republicans but recently joined by left-wing Democrats, to turn Israel into a partisan issue. The Republicans, as they see it, would be the party of Israel supporters. The Democrats, as the rising left would say, would be the party of Palestine.

At the root of that divide is a fundamental question: Is support for the Jewish state separable from support for the democratically elected government of Israel? For years, Republicans have said no. The Democratic left increasingly agrees, but from a different perspective: Israel is bad, regardless of who governs it.

“The pressure – electoral, social, cultural – on American Jews right now to come out” about the justice of the war in Gaza and about the legitimacy of the Israeli prime minister has been “relentless, relentless and at times downright cruel,” David said. Wolpe, a prominent Los Angeles rabbi and visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School.

Schumer’s speech and the resulting partisan response have made that pressure even more intense.

“It’s impossible to understate what a seismic event this was,” said Matthew Brooks, the former executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who made clear that the group would use the speech to turn Jewish voters toward the Republican Party.

While Republicans accused Schumer of trying to force an election at a time when most Israelis support and are focused on the war against Hamas, the Senate leader was, in fact, aware of Israeli public opinion. He noted that “many Israelis have lost confidence in the vision and direction of their government,” a phrase backed by polls indicating Netanyahu is deeply unpopular. Schumer was also careful to say that elections should be called only “once the war begins to end” and that he would respect its outcome.

Jewish democrats have long maintained that support for a Jewish state in the traditional homeland of the Jewish people is intrinsic to their identity, regardless of the government in power in Jerusalem. Schumer tried to make that point clear from the beginning of Thursday’s speech, explaining that his last name derives from the Hebrew word meaning “guardian.” He is, she said, a “shomer Israel – a guardian of the people of Israel.”

But his speech came at an incendiary moment, when support among Democrats for what Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, calls “Netanyahu’s war” is eroding and strong voices on the left say the state of Israel is inherently wrong: an intrusive “settler colonialist” incompatible with the rights and sovereignty of the Palestinian people who lived there before Israel’s independence in 1948.

“There is this divide where the overwhelming majority of American Jews support Israel, support its right to exist as a Jewish state, and an increasingly vocal minority do not support Israel as a Jewish state and reject what happened in 1948 to ensure that the Jewish state survived,” Michael J. Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, a Washington-based research group, said Friday from Israel.

He continued: “Schumer needed to preserve some way to criticize the Israeli government without being even close to Camp No. 2, which is why he spent so much time in the beginning talking about the guilt of Hamas and his love for Israel.”

But in such a political moment, any notion of “nuance” – a word Schumer used when lamenting the “silent majority” of Jews whose “nuanced views have never been represented in discussions about the war in Gaza” – is unlikely to founder. .

Republicans made no secret that they would use Schumer’s words against him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee attacked emails demanding that vulnerable Democrats running for re-election this year speak out against Schumer’s views.

Norm Coleman, a former Republican senator from Minnesota who went to public school with Schumer in New York and now chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Friday that any remaining bipartisanship around support for Israel could have been erased by the denunciation of Netanyahu’s Schumer and his call for new elections. He accused Schumer of political motives driven specifically by President Biden’s travails with Arab Americans in the crucial swing state of Michigan.

“I don’t think Schumer is speaking for American Jews,” Coleman said. “I think he’s speaking as the majority leader of a Democratic Party now so concerned about the left, so concerned about Michigan, that he gives a speech telling the democratically elected government of a democratic country that it should no longer be the government.” .

Even some centrist Jewish Democrats, such as Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois, condemned Schumer’s call for new elections in Israel as meddling in the affairs of what he called “the only true democracy in the region.”

For many older liberal Jews, however, Schumer’s words were a tonic. They were an articulation of their shared agonies over the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and their frustrations with an Israeli government that includes far-right ministers, whom Schumer called out by name, who are adamantly opposed to any concessions for peace. . or Palestinian sovereignty. His words were also an expression of Democrats’ growing desire to use what Schumer called “leverage” tied to billions of American tax dollars flowing to the Israeli military.

Daniel G. Zemel, Reform rabbi of Washington, DC, and a defender of “liberal Zionism”, He said Mr. Schumer’s recipes were “exactly what American Jews should order.”

“There has to be a different approach,” he said, rejecting those who called Schumer’s prescriptions undemocratic. “As a rabbi and a Jew, I have the right and obligation to say what I want Israel to be in this world.”

Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and dean of members of the Jewish House, posted on social media that Mr. Schumer “He is right,” adding: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has become an obstacle to peace and the two-state solution.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois is one of those progressive Jewish Democrats who feels trapped in a vicious cycle between activists who harass her as “Genocide Jan” and her personal conviction that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state. next to a sovereign Palestinian. state. It is, she acknowledged, a “tense moment” for politicians like her, but she said Friday that Schumer was speaking on behalf of the majority of Jews in the United States and Israel.

He vehemently dismissed the idea that Schumer was encroaching on Israeli democracy, noting that Netanyahu spoke in 2015 before Congress to pressure President Barack Obama to abandon his nuclear deal with Iran.

“Right now there is a hunger for another path, and that’s what Schumer had the courage to talk about,” he said. “Most Israelis and American Jews understand the importance and essential role that the United States plays, and we feel that Bibi is belittling us.”



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