Top US Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer warns against surge of antisemitism

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned on Wednesday against blaming Jewish Americans for the actions of Israel’s government, as antisemitism swelled in the U.S. following the Israeli military response in Gaza to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

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, a Democrat who is Jewish, wrote in an opinion piece in the New York 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.

The Senate leader planned to give a speech on antisemitism later on Wednesday. His comments came as the Senate planned to consider legislation including aid for Israel and Ukraine as soon as next week.

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.

Schumer, who represents New York state, 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.

The senator said a Jewish high school teacher in New York City’s Queens borough told him she’d been forced to hide in a locked office from student protesters who were demanding she be fired because she attended a rally supporting Israel. He called the incident “antisemitism, pure and simple.”

“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,” Schumer wrote.

Israel says the Hamas militant group killed about 1,200 people, from babies to grandparents, in personal, 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.

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 to date only about three dozen Democratic members to back calls for a full ceasefire, which Israel rejects as something that would let Hamas regroup.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Dan Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)