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The Anguished Courage of Chuck Schumer

Joe Conason on

Nothing in politics is more difficult than breaking with longtime allies, friends and supporters over an issue of principle. In recent years we have seen the "Never Trump" Republicans take that painful step, sometimes abandoning their party and severing relationships built over a lifetime, with bitter consequences.

And last week we watched as Sen. Chuck Schumer made an equally fateful and agonizing choice when he stood up on the Senate floor to urge elections in Israel that he hopes will oust the Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu and his government. As the Senate majority leader, Schumer is not only the top Jewish American elected official but the highest-ranking member of his faith in this country's history, which means his words carry weight not only in his party but among American Jews, who reliably vote for Democrats by overwhelming margins.

It was a decision that Schumer, as a devoted advocate of the Jewish state, could only have made because he feels an unbearable burden of responsibility for the horrific death and destruction that Netanyahu is inflicting on Palestinian civilians. In the wake of the barbaric Hamas attack last Oct. 7, he supported military action to destroy the terror organization that controls Gaza -- and yet he knows that just purpose cannot justify the reckless and inhumane conduct of that campaign, which is now causing the mass starvation of innocents.

"I'm anguished that the Israeli war campaign has killed so many innocent Palestinians," Schumer said. "I know that my fellow Jewish Americans feel the same anguish when they see the images of dead and starving children -- and destroyed homes." No doubt he knows and laments the ruinous impact of this war on Israel's international standing, just when much of the Arab world has come to accept its existence.

While Israel's actions probably don't constitute the "genocide" its enemies have claimed, there isn't much question that the far-right government has perpetrated war crimes -- and remains indifferent to Palestinian suffering. The rage provoked around the globe by their torment will not diminish for years.

For many Americans, and indeed many American Jews, including me, the outrages perpetrated in this war are simply unacceptable. For some of us, however, this was no surprise but instead the inevitable result of American action, or inaction, that permitted Israeli right-wingers to thwart any progress toward an independent Palestinian state.

While official US policy supported the "two-state solution," in practice presidents of both parties did little or nothing to insist that either side enter negotiations in good faith. Instead, most American politicians either cheered on Israeli intransigence, and Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, or looked the other way.

Meanwhile, as we have learned in recent months, the Netanyahu government used its own authority to bolster and finance the Hamas extremists, who provided an excuse for their own intransigence. Beyond irresponsible, that shady alliance led directly to the blood-soaked horror of Oct. 7, the vilest atrocity against Jews since the Holocaust.

 

Until the other day, Schumer endorsed the foolish consensus that has bolstered Netanyahu and his destructive policies for decades. That is why Jewish leaders who continue to back those policies reacted to his courageous speech with anger.

The Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which has routinely rubberstamped Israeli policy with little discernible thought, declared itself "distressed" that the Senate majority leader would interfere in Israel's internal affairs, a criticism voiced by Israeli officials and their Republican echoes. (Never mind that Netanyahu has routinely intervened in American politics and diplomacy without a second thought.) It was distressed, too, that Schumer would suggest the United States should "play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change [the] present course." It accused Schumer of fostering "divisiveness when unity is so desperately needed."

What those Jewish leaders fail to understand -- and what the senator from Brooklyn has come to realize at last -- is that there can be no unity premised on the indiscriminate violence and reckless aggression epitomized by the present government of Israel. As thousands continue to die, Netanyahu has no incentive to seek an end to this war, to negotiate the release of hostages held by Hamas, or to pursue the only real hope for peace and security in the region.

Let's hope Schumer's anguished bravery becomes contagious.

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To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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