Schumer’s “Unprecedented” Speech

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on March 15, 2024

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Yesterday, Senator Chuck Schumer – Senate Majority Leader and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in US history – delivered one of the most momentous, heartfelt pro-Israel speeches the Senate has ever seen.

It was a historic turning point for our movement – described by reporters as a “stunning development” and a “gloves off” moment.

For those who have attended pro-Israel events where the Senator has spoken, you may be familiar with a common refrain of his where he shares that his last name is rooted in the Hebrew word shomer, which means ‘guardian.’ And that is exactly the perspective through which he delivered his unprecedented remarks – as a protector of Israel.

The Senator – a bellwether for the Jewish community, who has refrained from sharp criticism of the Israeli government – reckoned directly with the “significant course corrections” Israel must make going forward, as well as the failures of leadership on the Palestinian side. Across the board, we must stand up to extremists and those seeking to further only their own political survival at the expense of their own people’s future, he said.

Senator Schumer included both the settlement movement and Prime Minister Netanyahu on a list of “obstacles to peace” – criticizing the government’s “dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing standards for assistance.”

Significantly, he said that if Netanyahu remains in power, the US should “play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change the present course.”

The Majority Leader rightly blasted “morally repugnant” efforts to rebrand Hamas as “freedom fighters” – noting the group’s appalling tactics and their violent repression of Palestinian opponents and civilians – calling for clear condemnation from all those who care about Palestinian welfare.

I suspect we may look back on this moment as the day our pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy platform cemented itself at the heart of the Democratic party.

While MAGA Republicans and right-wing groups have already started a faux outrage pile-on against Senator Schumer in an effort to shut down further debate, J Street believes our elected officials have the right and the responsibility to stand up for American interests, our shared values and Israel’s own long-term interests.

As Senator Schumer said, his words reflected the thoughts of “so many mainstream Jewish Americans, a silent majority,” whose nuanced views on Israel/Palestine have often been drowned out by more extreme voices.

As well as powerfully articulating the horror we feel in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack – and the fears awakened for many who recall the threats Israel has faced before – the Majority Leader spoke of the profound anguish we share over the situation in Gaza, and the dark, anti-democratic path Netanyahu’s government continues to lead us down.

“What horrifies so many Jews especially is our sense that Israel is falling short of upholding these distinctly Jewish values that we hold so dear,” Senator Schumer said.

“Palestinian civilians do not deserve to suffer for the sins of Hamas, and Israel has a moral obligation to do better,” he said. “The United States has an obligation to do better.”

Speaking out of clear love for Israel, Senator Schumer outlined a vision for a better path:

  • He issued a forceful call for a two-state solution – “the only realistic and sustainable solution” – calling the settlement movement’s pursuit of permanent, undemocratic control of Palestinian land a form of “insanity” which would lead to “constant war.”
  • He spoke directly to the Israeli people seeking new leadership, sharply criticizing Netanyahu for weakening Israel’s political and moral fabric: “We should let the chips fall where they may, but the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice.”
  • He called for “courageous leadership” and for regional powers to work with America toward Palestinian statehood – to “deploy their clout, their money and their diplomacy to support a new demilitarized Palestinian state that rejects terror and violence.”

This speech was pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy leadership at its best.

It reflected the will, values and nuanced perspective of the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans – a perspective J Street itself was created to give voice to.

We will continue that important work as we navigate this crisis together: Transforming principles into policy, working toward the Israel envisioned in its Declaration of Independence, and pressing for a way out of this horror and toward a better future.