Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history. New York City, which he has represented in Congress since 1981, has the second-largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel.
Today, Jews in his city — and across the United States — are in a state of crisis. Antisemitism is on the rise, especially since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel and the resulting deadly war in Gaza. The number of hate crimes and bias incidents aimed at Jews has soared as pro-Palestinian protests have spread. Synagogues and Jewish institutions have to be protected by police. Nowhere is that more evident than in Schumer’s own hometown.
It’s with that backdrop that Schumer took to the Senate floor Wednesday and delivered a powerful 40-minute speech. The address was filled with lessons from Jewish history and unequivocal condemnations of the blatant displays of antisemitism that have infected American cities and college campuses following Oct. 7.
Late Wednesday, hours after the address, we visited with Schumer in his Capitol office to talk about antisemitism in America, why he thinks it’s on the rise and what needs to be done to combat it.
Let’s start here: The speech drew praise from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor. Later, when they were in a SCIF, the Kentucky Republican turned to Schumer and said: “It’s about time someone who knew Jewish history talked about Jewish history.”
Schumer suggested to us that many young liberals who have taken up the Palestinian cause are ignorant of the vast history of oppression against Jews.
“This idea that Jewish people are the oppressors, that that’s led to some of the problems — our whole history is one of being oppressed,” Schumer said.
“I understand there’s criticism of Israel, that’s legitimate whether you agree with it or not,” Schumer added. “But not a peep about Hamas from the same people who care about the Palestinian civilians. That’s confounding.”
The Oct. 7 attack in Israel — and the subsequent war against Hamas — has fueled a spike in antisemitism. Schumer told us some of that sentiment stems from “antisemites taking advantage of the situation” or people using antisemitism to advance a cause, regardless of “whether [antisemitism is] their ultimate motivation.”
Digging a bit deeper, we spoke with Schumer about the fear that Jews feel today.
“People are afraid to walk out the door, take the subway,” Schumer told us. “Antisemitism has leapt up and that’s why I spoke now.”
We asked Schumer what would calm things down. His response:
“Legitimate” criticism: Schumer has long criticized the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s posture toward controversial settlements in the West Bank. Schumer told us he recently asked Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog directly to crack down on these settlements.
Schumer even went as far as to say Netanyahu would lose to opposition leader Benny Gantz “two to one” if an election were held today.
“The majority of Israelis believe you need a two-state solution,” Schumer said. “Netanyahu has become much less popular. Number one, because he didn’t keep the security promise, but number two, I think most Israelis agree that just letting the fanatics run the show is not going to be good for Israel.”
Schumer also has no qualms with the group of Democratic senators criticizing Israel’s military operations in Gaza over the large number of Palestinian civilian casualties, which he has urged Israel to work to minimize.
“They’re good people and they care about Israel, but they have a somewhat different point of view,” Schumer said of his colleagues. “That’s OK.”
— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan