The Schumer flap and the very wrong Right

The Schumer flap and the very wrong Right

Let me be clear about this: As I have often written, airing our disputes in public, especially regarding Israel, gives the Jew-haters and terrorist murderers something to cheer about and to cite over and again in support of their vile agendas. For that reason alone, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) should not have publicly denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor should he have called for new Israeli elections.

In the past, I have argued that we in the Diaspora need to get involved with Israel’s political issues, but only from behind the scenes. Schumer, however, is not just one of us. He is the highest-ranking Jewish government official in U.S. history. His remarks in any forum will become public. His speech, therefore, unintentionally yet inevitably gave the Jew-haters and terrorist murderers even more to cheer about.

That said, Schumer’s speech was right on point. I have said as much in previous columns, and so have many others. Israel can no longer afford Netanyahu’s self-centered governance.

It appalls me, however, that Schumer is being excoriated by extreme right truth-twisting “journalists” whose words routinely appear in Anglo-Jewish newspapers. We American Jews need honest reporting about the matters we must be concerned about — and there are many, especially now — but that is not what we get from “journalists” who pour their politics into their reporting.

Columnists, of course, have the right to express their views (me included), but the newspapers carrying them have an obligation to check their facts and provide readers with balanced opposing views, as the New Jersey Jewish News does. Those newspapers that do not do so ill serve their communities.

In reporting on Israel, these “righters” insist that Israelis are firmly behind Netanyahu. They say this despite headlines such as this one from Haaretz on March 2: “Thousands Protest Across Israel Against Government.”

They also say this despite what recent surveys of adult Israelis reveal. One poll commissioned by the newspaper Israel Hayom found that 63 percent of Israelis support early elections. An Israeli Democracy Institute poll puts that number at 71 percent. Both polls also show that many voters on the right are among those who support early elections.

These recent polls also show that Netanyahu, his Likud Party, and their allies are likely to suffer a huge defeat in the next election, with Likud winning only 18 seats in the next Knesset and only 45 seats overall. On the other hand, Benny Gantz’s National Unity party would win 37 seats for itself, and 75 seats overall. Yet the right, in its reporting and commentaries, insists that Bibi is firmly in the political driver’s seat.

These “righters” are unconcerned with facts. By their unqualified support of Netanyahu, they especially ignore his role in helping Hamas gain power in Gaza and then keeping it by helping Qatar funnel billions of dollars to these murderers for nearly a decade, often with the help of Israeli intelligence officers assigned to escort the funds into Gaza. What was once an open secret in Israel for many years was brought to light by the New York Times on December 10, 2023.

Bibi did so because he needed Hamas to be an effective rival to the Palestinian Authority, thereby effectively diminishing any pressure on him to negotiate the very two-state solution he hypocritically said was the only path to peace in 1996, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2018, and 2020.

The words “two states for two peoples” often flowed easily from Bibi’s lips when he was appealing for votes from moderate Israelis. Yet no commentator on the Jewish far right ever excoriated him for advocating this, just as today they ignore his role in giving Hamas the ability to govern Gaza with its iron fist — which gave Hamas the freedom it needed to routinely launch rockets into Israel and to carry out its deadly attacks on October 7 that led to the war in Gaza.

As I have often written, Bibi has only one goal — to go down in the history books as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. As of today, March 29, he has served for 16 years and 183 days, far outdistancing Israel’s primary founder David Ben-Gurion’s 13 years and 127 days. No one else even has come close to matching either of them. Every day Bibi is in office makes it even more unlikely that his record will ever be broken.

That is not how he will be remembered in the history books, however. Hamas turned his reputation as “Mr. Security” into a joke on October 7. That is what the history books will now say about Benjamin Netanyahu.

Something else the “righters” ignore is how Bibi — thoughtlessly, I hope — created a path for Hamas’s October 7 invasion. On November 24, 2023, the daily newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli officials knew as far back as mid-2014, during Netanyahu’s second term in office, that Hamas was planning some sort of major attack. (I cited that report in my column a month later, on December 22.) That knowledge grew exponentially over the last year or so after Netanyahu was back in office. Israel, Haaretz reported, had “detailed information” about Hamas’s plans “for over a year now…, but Israel didn’t properly prepare for the threat….[Instead, the] army diluted the forces of its Gaza Division…[and] withdrew companies that had been deployed at certain kibbutzim….”

Israel redeployed those companies to the West Bank after Netanyahu returned to office, doubtless to satisfy the demands of the two racist ministers whose parties helped elect him in December 2022 — National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism Party. Hamas thus had an open door to commit its atrocities.

Extensive ceasefires, which Bibi supports, give Hamas a chance to regroup, but they also allow him to project an image of standing firm against terror.

You will not find the “righters” saying one word about any of this, however, or about the existential threat posed to Israel here by the growing march into the once negligible anti-Zionist camp, particularly among young Jews between the ages of 18 and 29, the American Jewish community’s future leaders.

Jews in this age group often reflect the opinions of their non-Jewish peers. This week, the Pew Research organization released what is considered to be the most comprehensive survey yet of how Americans view the Gaza conflict. The survey, with a margin of error of just 1.5 percent, was conducted in February among 12,693 adults. It found that more young people overall between 18 and 29 believe that Hamas had good reason for fighting Israel than believe the opposite — 34 percent vs. 30 percent. As for how Israel is conducting the war, 46 percent called it unacceptable, while only 21 percent said it was acceptable (perhaps understandably, given the complexities of this war, 32 percent said they were unsure).

That young Jews — tomorrow’s Jewish leaders — feel this way is as growing an existential threat to Israel as any aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The longer the Gaza war continues as it has been, with its concomitant humanitarian crisis and mounting civilian deaths, the more American Jews — of all ages — will gravitate to the anti-Zionists who oppose the existence of the State of Israel. U.S. support for Israel will suffer because of it, and that is something we must not allow to happen.

In his Senate speech, Schumer talked about how the humanitarian crisis in Gaza runs counter to “Jewish values,” as he put it. He is not wrong. The Torah itself makes that clear in Deuteronomy 20:19 when it says, “In making war against the city, do not destroy its food-bearing trees by wielding an axe against them for from them you will eat.”

Unstated but obvious in that food-bearing tree commandment is that the civilians in that city depend on those same trees for their sustenance, and they will still need them when the war ends. Wars are sometimes necessary — this war to entirely extinguish Hamas certainly is — but starving the citizens of the enemy city violates everything for which the Torah stands.

The right-wing commentators, however, care little about that or such other Jewish values as the Torah’s insistence on equality and justice for all people, or for the primacy Torah law gives to the preservation of human life. They care only about the political points they make.

Granted that Schumer should not have spoken as he did.  He should be criticized for doing so. He should not, however, be demonized for saying what so many Jews have been saying to themselves as this very necessary war continues. (The Pew survey found that only 62 percent of American Jews believe that Israel’s conduct of the war is acceptable.) Those who agree with Schumer should not be demonized as traitors and self-hating Jews, as the “righters” also refer to them.

What Maimonides, the Rambam, wrote to the Jews of Yemen 850 years ago remains valid today: “Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.”

Shammai Engelmayer is a rabbi-emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is

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