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‘Ultimately, we are alone’: Schumer calls out antisemitism on the left in a speech on the Senate floor

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In a 45-minute speech on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Jewish Americans are “alone” and took some of his political allies to task for rising antisemitism on the left following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. 

“Jewish Americans are left alone at least in our eyes to ponder what this all means, and where it could lead,” Schumer, the Jewish New York Democrat, said in opening Wednesday’s Senate session. “Can you understand why the Jewish people feel isolated when we hear some praise Hamas and chant its vicious slogan?”

The slogan he was referring to, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is one embraced by a member of his own party, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who advocates for a single Israeli-Palestinian state. She is also among a growing group of progressive lawmakers calling for a permanent ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Schumer started out, as he often does, by proudly noting his status as the most senior Jewish elected official in U.S. history. But he articulated what many Jews — who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats — have said over Thanksgiving meals, Shabbat gatherings and after synagogue services: After years of alarm at the rise of antisemitism on the right, many fear that the left is also becoming inhospitable, with some progressives praising the Hamas attack.

“In some cases, people even celebrated what happened, describing it as the deserved fate of ‘colonizers’ and calling for ‘glory to the martyrs’ who carried out these heinous attacks,” Schumer said.  “Many of the people who have expressed these sentiments in America aren’t neo-Nazis, or card-carrying Klan members, or Islamist extremists. They are in many cases people that most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.”

He also drew a parallel with anti-Muslim actions during the Donald Trump administration, recalling how he stood with Muslims when Trump issued a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries early in his presidency. As a candidate, Trump had called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

“When President Trump called for a Muslim ban during the first weeks of his presidency, I held an emergency press conference to protest the ban,” he said. “It was a deeply distressing moment, and I’m an emotional sort. I began to cry. President Trump saw me crying on TV and gave me a nickname, ‘Cryin’ Chuck Schumer.’ I was — and am — proud of that moniker.”

Schumer’s speech comes as Jewish security groups and law enforcement agencies have reported a spike in antisemitic incidents following Oct. 7. A Jewish man died following a physical altercation at dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies near Los Angeles, and multiple Jewish students have been assaulted on campus. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions across the country have been vandalized with antisemitic and anti-Israel graffiti. 

Schumer delved into the use of the “river to the sea” slogan, which Tlaib and others say simply calls for equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League say the slogan is antisemitic because it calls for Israel’s elimination. 

“I believe there are plenty of people who chant ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ not because they hate Jewish people, but because they support a better future for Palestinians,” Schumer said.

“But there is no question that Hamas and other terrorist organizations have used this slogan to represent their intention to eliminate Jewish people not only from Israel, but from every corner of the Earth,” he said. “Given the history of oppression, expulsion, and state violence that is practically embedded in Jewish DNA, can you blame Jewish people for hearing a violently antisemitic message, loud and clear, any time we hear that chant?”

Schumer often trumpets his Jewish identity and has spoken repeatedly at pro-Israel rallies since Oct. 7. In speeches to Jewish groups, he likes to note his surname’s etymology, which likely derives from the Hebrew word “shomer,” which means guard.

As he has in the past, he expressed deep-seated satisfaction in doing his ancestors proud and praised the American values that he said made his upward mobility possible.

“My father struggled, barely making ends meet,” Schumer said.

“But together with my mother, he provided a stable and loving home in Brooklyn for my siblings and me, where we were able to flourish,” he said. “And because of the tolerance and openness and opportunity that courses through all of American life, I now stand before you as the majority leader of the United States Senate, the highest elected office a Jewish person has ever attained in the history of this country.”

And he sought to conclude on a positive note, inserting a Hebrew phrase from the Jewish prayer book into his speech. 

“Are we a nation that can defy the regular course of human history where the Jewish people have been ostracized, expelled and massacred over and over again?” he said. “I believe, truly believe in my heart, that the answer can and must be a resounding yes. And I will do everything in my power as Senate majority leader, as a Jewish American, as a citizen of a free society, as a human being to make it happen. Ken yihye ratzon, may it be God’s will.”

Yet he walked away from the podium with his face frozen in a grimace, a departure from the avuncular posture he loves to project, and the stark unhappiness that infused his speech lingered on.

“Can you appreciate the deep fear we have about what Hamas might do, if left to their own devices?” he said at another point in the speech. “Because the long arc of Jewish history teaches us a lesson that is hard to forget. Ultimately, we are alone.”

The post ‘Ultimately, we are alone’: Schumer calls out antisemitism on the left in a speech on the Senate floor appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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