On Tuesday, March 28, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took to the podium at the AIPAC Policy Conference. In a heartfelt address peppered with personal anecdotes, he spoke to the strength of the bond between the United States and Israel. He discussed the recent rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States. He also characterized the campaign to delegitimize Israel — waged by movements like BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) and by the United Nations — as a “cloaked” form of anti-Semitism. Finally, he called for unified support for Israel across the American political spectrum, and pledged, “[A]s long as HaShem breathes air into my lungs, I will fight to make Israel a safer, more secure, more prosperous nation.”
The transcript of Sen. Schumer’s speech, as provided on the AIPAC Policy Conference website, appears below.
Tuesday March 28, 2017
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Please welcome Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Thank you, everybody. It’s truly an honor to be with you this morning. You know I always like starting out telling a little story. And as they say I can tell a hamish story at this crowd. Some of you in New York have heard this but many others haven’t. It’s about when I was re-districted as a congressman into Queens. I’d always had a district in Brooklyn and I’m campaigning in the new parts of Queens, Forest Hills, a nice Jewish neighborhood.
And a lady comes over to me and she says, “Oh, I just read in the Queens Tribune, you’re Chuck Schumer. I just read in the Queens Tribune, you’re my new congressman.” I said, “Yes, ma’am, I am.” She said, “Well, you know, I’ve never met you in person but I watch C-Span religiously and I’d like to pay you a compliment.” I said, “Well, thank you.” She said, “You have more courage than any other member of Congress.” I said, “Well, ma’am, that’s a pretty tall statement. There are 535 members of the House and Senate. I admit a few are no-good-niks but most are very estimable people. What makes you say I have more courage than any of the others?” She said, “Well, as I said, I’ve never met you before but I watch C-Span and when you rise to your feet to speak, you’re the only one who has the courage to wear a yarmulke.” I said, “Thank you very much, ma’am, but it’s obvious you haven’t met me in person. It’s not a yarmulke.”
Anyway, I have a lot of those, but we have to get down to the business at hand today. I’m so glad to be here at AIPAC. I love AIPAC, you do an amazing job. Through thick and thin you’ve kept the Israel-American relationship like this and I want to thank your great leadership: Lillian Pinkus, Bob Cohen, Howard Kohr, Ester Kurz and the whole gang. Thank you all for your tireless effort to ensure no matter what that the bond between America and the State of Israel remains as durable as ever. And a thank-you, a strong thank-you, to all of you who have taken the time out of your busy schedules to be here today, out of your commitment and dedication to eretz zavat chalav u’dvash, the Land of Israel, the Land of Milk and Honey.
Now, this year we celebrate 69 years since the State of Israel was first established — born out of the ashes of the Holocaust, thrust immediately into conflict, struggling always to guarantee the safety and security of its people, while growing as an international power and building one of the world’s most dynamic economies, and at the same time, reaching out for peace even when it seemed a distant prospect. Throughout that history, the fate of Israel has tied with our fate here in America.
From the moment President Truman became the very first world leader to recognize the State of Israel, the bond between Israel and the United States has been unbreakable. We have shown the true meaning of friendship between nations and so it must remain forever more because although Israel is as strong as it has ever been, it continues to face challenges no other nation on earth must face. Now, many here in America, many — especially younger Americans mdash; have been blessed to grow up knowing Israel as strong and secure. They’re aware of the threats Israel faces, but they have not lived through the War of Independence or the Yom Kippur War.
Those moments when the very existence of Israel balanced on the edge of a knife. When David Ben-Gurion said that he wanted younger generations to know that the Jews were no longer lambs being led to the slaughter, but rather a nation able to defend itself, he did not know whether that aspiration would actually come true. I remember as a senior at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York — “Madison forever” — carrying a transistor radio — you young people don’t know what a transistor radio is — to my ear as I went to classes in June of ’67 listening to every moment of the newscast because I — and pray to HaShem that Israel would prevail, that the Arab nations wouldn’t push Israel into the sea, and I was hoping that the Jewish state would be the kind of state we see today.
The younger generations are blessed. I mean that. They’re blessed to know an Israel entirely capable of defending itself. To think of Israel as established and strong, and in so many ways it is. Israel’s advancement in the tech sector makes us so proud. They’re the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. And Israel’s innovation economy produces some of the world’s most popular and groundbreaking products. The top American firms go to Israel to figure out how to protect themselves from cyber theft and enhance their cybersecurity. Militarily, again, we are so proud. Israel’s a force to be reckoned with and a vital partner in the war against ISIS and other terrorist organizations, working with governments worldwide to help them meet every threat imaginable.
Israel has also become a humanitarian leader in the global community, whether it’s sending medical units and search and rescue teams to Haiti and Japan after devastating earthquakes, or opening its arms to orphaned children and refugees fleeing world-torn Syria. So while some continue to unfairly paint Israel as an international pariah, more and more countries are realizing it’s in their fundamental self-interest to extend to Israel the olive branch of friendship.
Our dear Jewish state has come a long way indeed since its earliest days, but that does not mean we must be complacent. Israel and Jews across the world continue to face the kind of challenges that almost no other nation and no other people must face. I want to talk about anti-Semitism. It seems that every time we think for a moment that we have entered a more enlightened era of tolerance, the age-old demon of anti-Semitism comes back with a new virulence. And make no mistake, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments are all too often totally entwined.
Over the past five years we’ve watched the specter of anti-Semitism rise again in Europe. Where it seems to live in the soil as their original sin, neo-Nazi gangs march in the streets of European capitals. Members of parliament from London to Budapest run and win on platforms that actively promote hostility towards Jews and other religious minorities. European Jews are now thinking twice before they wear a yarmulke in public or hang a mezuzah in their door frame, echoes of our people’s dark history in Europe are growing louder and louder.
What is happening in Europe is an outrage and it ought to be condemned by leaders of the world from every faith and nationality, but anti-Semitism has always simmered just a bit beneath the surface in Europe. It’s far more shocking to see this scourge rear its ugly head here in our dear country, America, re-emerging with the strengths that we haven’t seen in decades. All of us have read the news reports; far too many among us have seen this scourge firsthand in our own communities. Synagogues are graffitied with swastika and slurs it seems almost on a daily basis.
Jewish cemeteries vandalized, sacred ground desecrated, white supremacists and extremists on the far right on our college campuses holding rallies and distributing leaflets in an effort to recruit young people to join the ranks of organized bigotry. Even the community centers where we send our children for preschool and swim meets and summer camps have been targeted by a wave of bomb threats that, regardless of the suspect’s religion or nationality, have struck fear in the hearts of a community already on edge. The darkest and most hateful fringes of our society from the far left to the far right are newly emboldened. We cannot stand for this.
To the parents who are worried for your children’s safety, to the young people who have never seen anything like this in your lifetime, to the older generations who are ever weary about history repeating itself, please know this: The perpetrators of these heinous acts will be brought to justice and we will show these cowards who traffic in hatred and bigotry that America — in America, good triumphs over evil, fear mongering and intolerance and intimidation will not be condoned.
I am committed to doing everything in my power to combat these threats wherever they may rise and in whatever form they take. Recently, at my urging, the Federal Communications Commission announced that Jewish community centers and other at-risk organizations have been granted special emergency waivers that make it easier for law enforcement to access caller ID information to help identify, track down and prosecute these criminals. Congress must also remain committed to providing funding for vulnerable institutions through the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Last year this program allocated $20 million for emergency preparedness to non-profit and religious organizations. These dollars save lives, so I will work to ensure this crucial funding is increased.
Now, while we continue to address these threats we must not lose sight of the many forms that anti-Semitism can take. The violent attacks I just mentioned are so despicable, so motivated by hate that the anti-Semitic aspect cannot be ignored, but anti-Semitism can sometimes be cloaked, hidden by certain movements, that professional bias, but suspiciously hold Israel to a different standard than any other nation. There is no greater example than the pernicious effort to harm Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions, the BDS movements.
Three years ago I stood before you and called out the BDS movement for what it really is: a deeply biased campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. Its supporters, whether they know it or not, are practicing a modern form of anti-Semitism, no less. What is anti-Semitism? It’s the double standard. Everyone could farm but the Jew could not. Everyone could live in Moscow but the Jew could not. Everyone could get a college degree but the Jew could not. Every nation can live in peace but the Jewish nation cannot. They seek to impose boycotts solely on Israel and not on any other nation. The BDS movement condemns Israel but willfully turns a blind eye to nations who actually violate human rights, even and especially in the Middle East.
I ask these so-called social justice crusaders where are your boycotts against Iran, a country that sponsors terrorism around the globe, executes dissenters and hangs them from construction cranes in city squares? Where are your boycotts against the scores of Arab nations where journalists are routinely jailed, homosexuality is punished by prison and physical abuse? Where are your boycotts there?
The State of Israel is all too frequently measured by a different standard than the rest of the world. Make no mistake, these boycott efforts have one goal and only one goal: to delegitimize the State of Israel. And I pledge to you, that I will continue to fight these boycott efforts tooth and nail, not only because they are unjust and immoral, they are counter-productive in achieving a truly lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
In my home state of New York, the state legislature passed a law saying if your business or university boycotts Israel, the State of New York will boycott you. I applaud the governor and state legislature for passing those laws and I’m calling on every other state to do exactly the same thing and fight BDS for the pernicious movement that it is. There’s one other place where this cloaked anti-Semitism lurks and that is in the halls of the United Nations.
The U.N. singles out Israel more than any other nation, especially in the Human Rights Council which remains hell-bent on admonishing the only beachhead of democracy in representative government and equal rights in the Middle East. Just the other week, a top U.N. official was forced to resign after she published a defamatory report that declared Israel had engaged in, quote, “the crime of apartheid.”
I’m glad she was forced to step down because these sort of baseless attacks disguised as official appraisals are little more than smear campaign, but unfortunately, we all know this is business as usual at the U.N. Since the days of “Zionism is racism,” the U.N. has been an incubator for Israel bashing. It is a forum where Israel is almost always labeled a villain and never the victim. Friends of the Jewish state should not trust it.
I hope one day Israel will become to be treated fairly at the U.N. Time may be on Israel’s side because I believe that history ultimately, ultimately favors nations that condemn terror, not celebrate it. Nations with democratic institutions and accountable governments and open markets in the rule of law, not those who close representation to all but a ruling family, whose regimes are beyond the reproach of the governed, who yield not to law but to a regressive religious orthodoxy.
So maybe someday the U.N. will become fair to Israel, but until that day comes, the United States must always come to the aid of our friend Israel at the U.N. We cannot, we cannot be silent when the U.N. singles out Israel for condemnation. We cannot let the U.N. impose terms on negotiations with the Palestinians ever. The United States should have vetoed Resolution 2334 in December, and it should never ever use the U.N. as a forum to put pressure on Israel for any kind of agreement.
Resolving the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no simple task, my friends, but peace will never come from the U.N.; peace must come from direct negotiations. Now, despite all these threats — anti-Semitism at home and abroad, anti-Semitic campaigns leveled at Israel at the U.N. in the form of global BDS — Israel remains strong. But we must do everything in our power to make sure the United States of America will forever be a beacon of hope for its friend and ally Israel. There is some who would have the United States retreat from the world stage. They even borrow from Charles Lindbergh’s isolationist campaigns of the ’30s. I believe this attitude is very dangerous for the United States and for Israel.
The United States should not shirk our responsibilities to our friends around the world including and especially the State of Israel. A strong America in the world is very good for Israel. That’s why I strongly support robust security assistance and missile defense funding for Israel, fearfully oppose proposals that would slash our State Department’s budget by more than 28 percent. I join AIPAC in opposing that cut. An engaged America is particularly important when it comes to Iran, which continues to broaden its influence in menacing ways throughout the region.
As Iran sows instability by continuing to provide funding to its nefarious proxies in the region, conduct ballistic missile tests, flagrantly abuse human rights of its own people and unjustly imprison foreigners, we must work with our partners in the region to counter Iran’s malign activities and we must support sanctions against Iran’s ICBM program, which is aimed at the United States of America.
And finally, Americans across the political spectrum — Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives and independents — must stand united in our support for Israel. Our politics may never be more polarized than ever these days, but we cannot afford to weaken our bipartisan support that Israel has always enjoyed. And that’s because the Jewish state is too important. As a boy, I grew up hearing stories about my great-grandmother. In 1941 when the Nazis invaded the Ukraine, then part of Galicia, the Nazis and the SS asked my grandmother, the matriarch of the family, to gather her whole family, her large family, on their porch of their house.
They came: little babies, elderly people and everyone in-between — all my relatives. They said, when they came to the porch, they said you are all coming with us. She said, we won’t leave, and they machine gunned down all 17 of them — killed them all. My great-grandmother could never imagine that one day there would be a country for Jews. The idea of a Jewish homeland was a faraway dream, a birth right deferred so long that it could hardly be considered a possibility at all.
Generations of Jews had been expelled from their homes in Spain, slandered with blood libel in France, forced to renounce their faith or face execution in the town squares of Yemen — for them the notion of a nation for the Jewish people was unthinkable. If you could go back and tell the Jews of the shtetl that one day there would be a Jewish State of Israel, they would give you a hardy guffaw and go on selling their wares. If you could go back and tell Russian Jews, chased from town to town by Cossack, the angry mob, the burning torch, that one day there’d be a State of Israel, I do not think they’d believe you.
If you could whisper to the Polish Jew who they came for one day at his home in Warsaw, who was loaded onto a train, separated from his family, forced to labor in a concentration camp, who would watch day after day the rings of smoke under a silent blue sky; if you could tell him one night while he lay hungry and shivering that someday soon there will be a place where Jews could not only survive but thrive, that they would have a land of their own, Eretz Yisrael; if you could only tell him, that after two millennia of wandering the desert, the Jewish people would finally find their way home and could live in freedom and self-determination and raise their families in peace — if you could tell them.
We must not forget Moshe Sharett’s warning that Israel and its freedom will not survive if one day it forgets the vale of tears out of which it arose. It is for this reason we must defend the Jewish State of Israel with such fervency. It is for this reason that I pledge to you today as long as HaShem breathes air into my lungs, I will fight to make Israel a safer, more secure, more prosperous nation.
Thank you, AIPAC. Thank you, all of you. Am Yisrael chai in America and Israel, the people Israel live on.