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Antisemitism in US a 'five-alarm fire' amid Israel-Hamas war, Senator Schumer says

Published Nov 29, 2023 10:07AM ET Updated Nov 29, 2023 12:51PM ET
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© Reuters. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) looks on, following the Senate Democrats weekly policy lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., November 28, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

By Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The rise in antisemitism since the start of the Israel-Hamas war has reached a crisis point in the United States, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned on Wednesday, saying it threatens the safety of Jews worldwide and the future of Israel.

"To us, the Jewish people, the rise in antisemitism is a crisis. A five-alarm fire that must be extinguished," Schumer said in an emotional, 40-minute Senate speech. He stressed that he was not embracing the Israeli government's policies nor ignoring the plight of Palestinians.

Schumer made his remarks as the Senate was set to consider legislation next week providing aid for Israel and Ukraine, which are both fighting wars. Demonstrations have erupted in the U.S. and abroad against the Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza prompted by the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas.

Schumer, a Democrat who is the highest elected Jewish official in the United States, emphasized that he was not labeling the majority of criticisms of Israeli government actions as antisemitic.

"This speech is also not an attempt to pit hate towards one group against that of another. I believe that bigotry against one group of Americans is bigotry against all," he said.

Immediately after the speech, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who often jousts with Schumer over the events of the day, praised his remarks, saying, "I stand with him in condemning this hatred."

Antisemitic incidents in the United States rose by about 400% in over two weeks after Oct. 7, the Anti-Defamation League, which fights antisemitism and other forms of bias, said in October.

Israel says the Hamas militant group killed about 1,200 people, from babies to grandparents, in hand-to-hand combat that spread terror among Jewish people far beyond its borders.

The subsequent Israeli military assault on Gaza has killed 14,800 people, four in 10 of them children, according to health authorities in the small coastal enclave. The truce agreed last week came after global pressure built for a ceasefire in the face of the rising death toll and devastation on the ground.

Noting that Jews represent only 2% of the U.S. population but are the target of 55% of all religion-based hate crimes registered by the FBI, Schumer said the New York Police Department in his home state has recorded a surge in incidents since Oct. 7.

"Jewish-Americans are feeling singled out, targeted and isolated. In many ways we feel alone," he said.

Recounting centuries of attacks on Jews around the world, Schumer spoke of his great-grandmother and more than two-dozen relatives being "gunned down" by Nazis in 1941.

In his speech and in an opinion piece published in the New York Times on Wednesday, the senator urged that Jewish Americans not be blamed for the actions of Israel's military in Gaza.

The solidarity and sympathy many Americans felt for Jews after the attacks, which targeted mostly civilians in towns and cities, has given way to "other, more disturbing voices," Schumer wrote in the Times.

"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," he wrote.

Schumer cited boycotts and vandalism against Jewish-owned businesses "that have nothing to do with Israel" and Jewish students being harassed and assaulted on college campuses.

Schumer warned against allowing criticism of Israel "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."

He also touched on how Arab Americans have similar fears when they see a rise in Islamophobia and "horrific crimes like the gut-wrenching murder" of a 6-year-old.

The Israel-Hamas crisis has divided Congress, prompting only about three dozen Democratic members to date to back calls for a full ceasefire, which Israel rejects as something that would let Hamas regroup.

Antisemitism in US a 'five-alarm fire' amid Israel-Hamas war, Senator Schumer says

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