In major speech, Schumer warns of consequences if Americans don't condemn antisemitism

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WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., warned in a major address Wednesday about repercussions if Americans don't condemn antisemitism, which has increased since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history, in a 45-minute speech laid out how Jews have felt isolated in the last month, called out recent examples of antisemitism in the U.S., and spoke about how trauma Jews have experienced for millennia is affecting how they feel today.

"No matter what our beliefs are, no matter where we stand on the war in Gaza, all of us must condemn antisemitism with full-throated clarity whenever we see it before it metastasizes into something even worse. Because right now, that’s what Jewish Americans fear most," Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Since Oct. 7, Jewish Americans are "feeling singled out, targeted and isolated. In many ways, we feel … alone," Schumer said. The solidarity that they initially received from fellow Americans for the brutal attack was "quickly drowned out by other voices," he said.

"While the dead bodies of Jewish Israelis were still warm, while hundreds of Jewish Israelis were being carried as hostages back to Hamas tunnels under Gaza, Jewish Americans were alarmed to see some of our fellow citizens characterize a brutal terrorist attack as justified because of the actions of the Israeli government," Schumer said.

Schumer argued that many Jews in recent years have rallied in support of Black and brown lives, for LGBTQ rights, and against anti-Asian hatred "out of the recognition that injustice against one oppressed group is injustice against all." He added, "But apparently, in the eyes of some, this principle does not extend to the Jewish people."

The majority leader said that while many currently protesting Israeli policy have noted that 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes when Israel became a state in 1948, they never mentioned 600,000 Mizrahi Jews across the Arab world who were also displaced and expelled from their communities.

Schumer listed numerous instances of Jews experiencing oppression over thousands of years, saying that "they have been humiliated, ostracized, expelled, enslaved and massacred for millennia."

"For Jewish people all across the world, the history of our trauma going back many generations is central to any discussion about our future," he said.

The New York Democrat spoke about his family's personal history and about how the rise of antisemitism in Europe led to the Holocaust. He said that when Nazis first marched in the streets, scapegoating Jews for Germany's problems, "many Germans of goodwill either stayed silent or marched alongside them, not necessarily realizing what they were aiding and abetting."

"And so, many of those Germans of goodwill, who marched in the early years of Hitler’s ascension, stayed on the sidelines after his horrifying intent was made clear," Schumer said. "The end result, as we all know, was the most targeted and systematic genocide in human history. Six million Jewish people were exterminated in a few years while others turned a blind eye."

Extreme rhetoric that has spread since Oct. 7, Schumer said, "gives license to darker ideas that have always lurked below the surface of every question involving the Jewish people."

Schumer added that a double standard regarding Jews persists today, which has left them feeling alone. He said, for example, that on Oct. 7, Hamas "knowingly invited an immense civilian toll during this war" and questioned why criticism for civilian deaths falls "exclusively on Israel" when Hamas terrorists actively hide behind innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

Health officials in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, have said the death toll has surpassed 14,500 after weeks of Israel's air and ground offensive. The Israel Defense Forces estimated that around 1,200 people were killed in the Oct. 7 attack, with hundreds more taken hostage.

Schumer listed antisemitic incidents that have occurred since Oct. 7, including students who "ran rampant in the hallways and demanded the firing of a teacher" at Hillcrest High School in Queens, New York, because she attended a rally supporting Israel.

"That is antisemitism!" said Schumer, who noted that the teacher, who wants to remain anonymous, was seated in the Senate gallery on Wednesday watching his floor speech.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned about the rise in antisemitism since Oct. 7 in recent testimony. Citing government statistics, Wray said Jews in America suffer “something like 60% of all religious-based hate crimes and incidents” despite representing only about 2.4% of the American public.

Schumer concluded his speech with a plea to the American people of all creeds and backgrounds: Learn the history of the Jewish people, reject the antisemitic double standard being applied to Jewish victims and hostages, and understand why Jews defend Israel.

It's "not because we wish harm on Palestinians, but because we fear a world where Israel is forced to tolerate the existence of groups like Hamas that want to wipe out all Jewish people from the planet," he said.

"I implore every person and every community and every institution to stand with Jewish Americans and denounce antisemitism in all of its forms, especially the double standard that has been wielded against the Jewish people for generations to isolate us," Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Schumer's remarks on the Senate floor. "It was extraordinary. I want to compliment him for providing a history lesson for Americans about the history of the Jewish people and to put it in context," he said.

"I share his disgust with the alarming rise of antisemitism in America and around the world," he said. "I stand with him in condemning this hatred and I stand with our ally Israel."

Schumer's speech comes a day after he and dozens of other senators attended a closed-door screening at the Capitol showing raw footage from the Oct. 7 attack.

"It was jarring and harrowing," Schumer said after viewing the video. "It shook all of us up in the room. I had to go sit in my office for a half-hour alone after seeing it."

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com