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Michael Ettedgui
Commenting on Israel and the Jewish world.

Chuck Schumer is Confused

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) departs from the Senate Chambers in the US Capitol Building on March 14, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) departs from the Senate Chambers in the US Capitol Building on March 14, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP)

On November 14, 2023, American Jewish organizations hosted the March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington D.C.  What began as a modest plan to attract some 60,000 people from the surrounding areas swelled into the largest pro-Israel rally in United States history.  On that day, some 290,000 people – mostly Jewish – from coast to coast, descended on the nation’s capital while another 250,000 joined via livestreams.  They went to demonstrate support for the Israeli hostages savagely taken by Hamas on October 7 and the Jewish State’s right to defend itself from one of the most diabolical terrorist organizations the world has ever known.     

The event’s success was made apparent by its speakers.  Congressional leaders, religious scholars, prominent activists and famous celebrities spoke.  It was a powerful display of support in the most powerful capital on Earth.   

One of the speakers was Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader from New York, who proudly proclaimed his status as the “highest-ranking Jewish elected official in America ever.”  Mr. Schumer gave a stirring speech, promising Israelis, “we in America have your back” and  “America feels your pain.” “We ache with you,” he said “and we will not rest until you get all the assistance you need.”  Given his position, the crowd erupted in chants of support.  Clearly the Senate leader stood ready to use his office to assist Israel in her hour of need.

Mr. Schumer’s Congressional record regarding the fight against global terrorism is consistent.  In the aftermath of Al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001, he voted in favour of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, allowing the United States to invade Afghanistan (along with every member of Congress except one).  In 2002, he voted in favour of a similar resolution regarding Iraq, which began the second US-Iraq war over an alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction.  And in 2014, he voted to authorize military force against ISIS, allowing America to defeat that enemy in Iraq and Syria.  

America’s intervention in Afghanistan was the longest war in the nation’s history.  From 2001 to 2021, coalition forces led by the US fought to wrestle control from the Taliban, a heinous terrorist organization which ruled over the improvised country.  The Project for Defence Alternatives estimated that in the three month period between October 7, 2001 and January 1, 2002, upwards of 1,300 civilians were killed by the US-led bombing campaign.  The Los Angeles Times found that in the five month period from October 7, 2001, to February 28, 2002, there were between 1,067 and 1,201 civilian deaths from the bombings. By the end of it all, 46,319 Afghan civilians perished, along with 74 journalists and 446 humanitarian workers.  The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan upon America’s withdrawal.  

America’s war in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s heinous leadership while causing widespread destabilization in the country, which continues to this day.  According to the Iraq Body Count, 12,153 Iraqi civilians died in the first month of that war.   By March 2023, 186,694 to 210,038 civilians died, including 282 journalists and 64 humanitarian workers. (While events other than America’s war caused many of these casualties, including ISIS’s rise and entrenchment in the country, Iraq would not have been destabilized in the absence of America’s invasion in 2003).  No weapons of mass destruction have been located in Iraq.

And According to Dave Phillips, a well-regarded New York Times reporter, between 2014 and 2019, American forces “dropped about 112,000 bombs and missiles” in Syria and Iraq in their quest to vanquish ISIS.  As many as 13,274 civilians are thought to have been killed in these countries, including upwards of 1,460 women and 2,367 children. 

War is brutal.  Civilians always suffer the most.  And America is often the aggressor, whether justified or not.  

This data was presumably known by Chuck Schumer when he addressed America’s Jews on the National Mall.  Also known by Mr. Schumer was the fact that Hamas shared ideologies with the terrorists in the nations he voted to attack.  

Most significantly, however, Mr. Schumer knew the differences between Israel’s war on Hamas and America’s wars in the Middle East.  Hamas prizes civilian casualties unlike other terrorist organization.  It has placed its war machine in homes, hospitals, schools and mosques.   According to a former IDF spokesman in February 2024, “there’s hardly a house that our troops go to that doesn’t have… an entrance to a tunnel, a shaft, or weapons that are stocked inside, or explosives, or where they are manufacturing weapons.  Or it’s a hideout for terrorist activity, or any of the above combined. And it’s pervasive all across the Gaza Strip.”  IDF evidence has confirmed this.  Hamas also built an extensive and sophisticated network of terror tunnels from which it would wage its war against the Jewish state while surrounding its leaders with human shields in the form of Israeli citizens.  

Gaza is not Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.  It is said to be the most densely populated area in the world.  Mr. Schumer knows Israel’s ability to protect civilians is much more limited than coalition forces in other parts of the region.  

It was against this backdrop that some Jews were disappointed with his keynote address regarding the Israel-Hamas war.  On March 14, 2024, while 129 innocent hostages languished in Gazan terror tunnels, the “highest-ranking Jewish elected official in America ever” gave a speech in the Senate.  Claiming to speak on behalf of “many mainstream Jewish Americans,” Mr. Schumer recounted his Jewish bona fides, conveyed his love for Israel and support for the hostage families and sufficiently condemned antisemitism and Hamas. But he also said, “Palestinian civilians do not deserve to suffer for the sins of Hamas, and Israel has a moral obligation to do better.”  If Palestinians do not deserve to suffer for the sins of Hamas, why did Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians deserve to suffer for the sins of their leaders?

Mr. Schumer also waded into Israeli politics, claiming, “a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence with the vision and direction of their government.”  While this may be true, it is entirely inappropriate for foreign politician in high leadership to comment on the democratic process of an ally while it fights to protect its very existence in the most dangerous region in the world.

In listing his “four major obstacles standing in the way of two states,” Mr. Schumer also traded honesty for equivalency.  According to him, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition partners are on the same footing in this regard as Hamas, its supporters and Mahmoud Abbas.  American opinion was never welcomed more by Jihadist terrorists everywhere.

Netanyahu and his partners – while pugnacious and extremist – were democratically-elected and are governed by the rule of law.  Hamas, on the other hand, is evil incarnate.  And Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently in the 19th year of his four year term, underwrites Palestinian terrorism through his well-documented Martyr’s Fund.  He is also the world’s most famous Holocaust denier.  In equateing Israeli politicians with Hamas and Abbas as factors standing in the way of two states, in this moment in history, when good is fighting evil, Mr. Schumer lost credibility as an effective broker.

After Mr. Schumer’s speech in the Senate (and in reaction to the mistaken killing of humanitarian aid workers from the World Central Kitchen), 37 former and current Congressional Democrats sent a letter to President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken urging the cessation of weapons transfers to Israel.  The signatories included Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, three of the most virulently anti-Israel lawmakers in America, who Mr. Schumer himself opposes.  While Mr. Schumer did not sign this letter, there is no doubt his condemnation of Israeli actions as the “highest-ranking Jewish elected official in America ever” gave his colleagues political cover for doing so.  No Republican has suggested punitive measures against Israel since October 7.

Chuck Schumer is undoubtedly a friend of Israel and cares for her deeply. But he is also confused.  On March 15, 2024, in the United States Senate, he forgot about Israel’s and America’s common experiences in the region and shared values generally.  He misjudged the moment. It was disappointing from the “highest-ranking Jewish elected official in America ever” and it may have emboldened enemies of Israel. 

About the Author
Michael Ettedgui is a lawyer in Toronto.