Column: Schumer’s Critics Ignore His Most Consequential Concerns

Both friends and foes of Israel swiftly targeted the more trlvial elements of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s 44-minute speech that has shaken up Washington, D.C., Jerusalem and elsewhere.

“Schumer delivered a speech in which he demanded that Israel’s democratically elected government be evicted from power and replaced by one more to his liking,” said Matt Brooks, chief executive officer of the Republican Jewish Coalition, in a prepared statement posted on The Jewish World’s website. “It is outrageous and unacceptable to meddle in Israel’s domestic politics.”

Why not? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “meddles” in U.S. politics. More than two decades ago, he urged the Senate – our Senate, that is – to support the invasion of Iraq. He addressed the GOP-controlled House of Representatives in 2015 to register his opposition to the Iran deal to suspend its production of nuclear power.

Schumer was hardly meddling. He stated what he thought to be in Israel’s best interests. Not to mention everyone else’s. He also addressed leadership changes in the Palestinian Authority and right-wing influence in the Knesset.

Brooks not only ignored Schumer’s reasons for calling for early elections – in Israel, that is – but also neglected to mention Schumer’s central mission – to bring peace to the Middle East once and for all. His goal is establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Schumer’s address last Thursday was probably driven in large part by politics. So-called progressives are threatening to sit out the presidential election to punish President Biden’s for tolerating Israel’s post-Oct. 7 military response in Gaza, where the Hamas-controlled health ministry claims 31,000 Gazans have been killed as a result.

Despite all this, Schumer’s speech is among the most high-minded that I have heard or read. I am leery about some of Schumer’s ideas, especially the two-state solution, but at least he is serious and laying out many of the needs for a peace plan, the obstacles that might stand in the way and the steps that can be taken to succeed.

Schumer, the highest-ranking elected Jewish official in America, represents 1.5 million Jews in New York, lives in the first or second most heavily Jewish county in the United States, has lost relatives in the Holocaust and represented Netanyahu’s younger brother and his late parents when they lived in New York state. (As one of New York City’s five boroughs, Schumer’s Brooklyn is home to 450,000 Jews and more than 500,000 Jews are estimated to live in Los Angeles County).

His opening words should make most American Jews feel comfortable: “I speak for myself, but I also speak for so many mainstream Jewish Americans – a silent majority – whose nuanced views on the matter have never been well represented in this country’s discussions about the war in Gaza.”

My sense is that most American Jews seek a reasonable course to resolve the conflict, or are too confused to adequately assess the situation. We must contend with a sizable minority of Jewish conservatives who fully support just about anything the current Israeli government decrees, as well as a smaller number of Jews who make excuses for Palestinian excesses. Disagree with either segment at your peril.

I concur with many of Schumer’s points, and I take issue with others. Let’s focus here on the most important issues. Summarizing his objectives, Schumer says in the transcript (also posted on this website):

“We have to think ahead to the future, the medium and long term, and how we can ensure that something like October 7 never happens again. We cannot let anger or trauma determine our actions and cloud our judgment.

“A two-state solution may feel daunting, especially now, but I believe it is the only realistic and sustainable solution – on the basis of security, on the basis of prosperity, on the basis of fundamental human rights and dignity. But in order to achieve a two-state solution, the reality is that things must change.”

If a two-state solution is the answer, do the Palestinians concur? In 2000, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would not even respond to Israel’s offer of an independent Palestinian state. Instead, he returned to Israel’s territories where he initiated or facilitated a lengthy uprising against Israel. The proposal has not advanced since.

The fact that the murders of 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7 was widely celebrated in Israel’s territories and other Arab lands proves that many Palestinians beyond Hamas’ reach do not seek peace. They were jubilant when Hamas swept into southern Israel to rape and butcher Israeli civilians and soldiers and then transport 240 Israelis to Gaza; so far, 100 hostages have been returned to Israel. Most of the Palestinians demonize Israel for its response that Hamas claims has killed 31,000 Palestinians, but it is much less often that they voice concern for Israeli hostages or call out Hamas for treating civilians as human shields.

How can Israel hold serious negotiations for any resolution with people who are so hostile?

Schumer’s generalized goal makes more sense, as he says, “If Israel were to not only maintain the status quo, but go beyond that and tighten its control over Gaza and the West Bank, as some in the current Netanyahu administration have suggested – in effect creating a de facto single state – then what reasonable expectation can we have that Hamas and their allies will lay down their arms? It would mean constant war.

“On top of that, Israel moving closer to a single state entirely under its control would further rupture its relationship with the rest of the world, including the United States,” he continues. “Support for Israel has declined worldwide in the last few months, and this trend will only get worse if the Israeli government continues to follow its current path.”

Schumer’s specific plan, the two-state solution, would be fine if it works, but nobody has yet to explain how. Palestinians might use the land as a launching pad to attack Israel, as Hamas just did in Gaza. A Palestinian state’s government might be too weak to control local terrorists. For the public, an independent state would be economically landlocked. It will be dependent on Israel, Jordan and Egypt for trade activities.

Negotiators need to consider different options. Egypt can annex Gaza and Jordan can govern part of the West Bank. Gaza and the West Bank can each be treated as a province in a larger country which can expand economic opportunities and provide protection in case of uprisings or terror outbreaks.

On paper, the second option makes sense. Practically speaking, an independent state stands a better chance of being accepted. Egypt will not even allow Gaza residents into Egypt temporarily. A federation between Jordan and the West Bank was considered in the past, but it fizzled out.

Republicans and leaders of Jewish organizations are pouncing on Schumer for what amounts to Netanyahu’s removal in the midst of an existential war; Schumer officially called for new elections while noting that Netanyahu’s positions would preclude a peace pact with the Palestinians. The prime minister also wants to expand the so-called settlements in the West Bank and annex this territory.

“We don’t like anyone telling us how to run our country,” Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said on CNN last Sunday.

Schumer need not worry about these attacks. He has the right to criticize Israel’s leaders or those of any other country. just as Israelis can do the same of our leaders. What one country does can influence the fate of multiple countries. Many Jews in both Israel and America wanted Netanyahu removed from power long before Oct. 7. Schumer cannot force Israelis to vote Netanyahu out of office, so what is the harm? Jewish leaders fear that Schumer’s speech can play into the hands of Israel critics. Said critics may think so, but it’s doubtful.

Besides, the Jewish people – whether from Brooklyn or Jerusalem – should be used to it. Who among us can ever run out of opinions?

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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