Watch this 30-second clip from Chuck Schumer’s speech Monday night at the annual AIPAC conference:
Here’s the full quote:
“When someone names only prominent Jews as trying to buy or steal our elections, we must call it out. When someone says that being Jewish and supporting Israel means you’re not loyal to America, we must call it out. When someone looks at a neo-Nazi rally and sees some ‘very fine people’ among its company, we must call it out. When someone suggests money drives support for Israel, we must call it out.”
Let’s take those sentences one by one.
FIRST SENTENCE: “When someone names only prominent Jews as trying to buy or steal our elections, we must call it out.”
This one is the most unclear, as it could be a reference to George Soros—a liberal donor who is often criticized by white supremacists, one of whom delivered a pipe bomb to his home, but it could also be a reference to Sheldon Adelson, a huge GOP donor, or a few others. In any case, Schumer is already blurring the line—to target only Jewish donors with criticism is both anti-Semitic and very short-sighted, so in that sense Schumer is right. But if the implication is that calling out specific donors is anti-Semitic if one of them happens to be Jewish, well then, the AIPAC shield is officially going up. (Hint: That is, indeed, the implication.)
SECOND SENTENCE: “When someone says that being Jewish and supporting Israel means you’re not loyal to America, we must call it out.”
Here we go! This is the first oblique reference to Ilhan Omar, the Muslim-American congresswoman who was wrongly accused of this “dual loyalty” version of anti-Semitism earlier this month, and was the victim of a nonstop smear campaign until that campaign hit a wall of progressive resistance. She was not, in fact, throwing out accusations of dual loyalty against Jewish figures in America, but protesting the forces that demanded that she express allegiance to Israel as an American elected official. And anyway, the broader accusation of dual loyalty to Israel is 100% true and provable, though it should be noted that it doesn’t mean “not being loyal to America” as Schumer phrases it here, and it’s practiced overwhelmingly not by Jewish-Americans, but by conservative Christian politicians with a variety of financial and ideological interests in bolstering the state of Israel.
It’s the third sentence, though, when Schumer really ups the ante…
THIRD SENTENCE: “When someone looks at a neo-Nazi rally and sees some ‘very fine people’ among its company, we must call it out.”
Yes, this statement by Donald Trump in the wake of Charlottesville was terrible and frightening and deeply anti-Semitic. And for Schumer to equate one of the low points in American presidential history with the legitimate criticisms put forth by Ilhan Omar is so deeply wrong-headed and cynical that it de-legitimizes his entire point. It’s the epitome of the “both sides!” thinking that yielded up a president like Trump, and it’s deeply, deeply irresponsible. The great irony is that it’s a false equivalence just like the one Trump made after Charlottesville when he said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
FOURTH SENTENCE: “When someone suggests money drives support for Israel, we must call it out.”
Yes, how dare they suggest something so…(checks reality)...fundamentally true. It’s not even controversial! AIPAC is an organization dedicated to supporting Israeli interests in America, and like any lobbying group, money plays an essential role!
This is another reference to Omar, of course, and if it’s not bad enough that Schumer is throwing a fellow Washington Democrat under the bus, it’s made a million times worse that he’s equating her legitimate criticisms with the bigotries of Donald Trump.
If there’s anything positive to be taken from the Ilhan Omar controversy, it’s that House Democrats buckled to progressive pressure when it looked very much like they were about to throw Omar under the bus for the second time in a month. Maybe this heralds the end of the period in American history where it was impossible to criticize the influence of pro-Israel groups like AIPAC without being called anti-Semitic, and maybe it will shift the Overton Window to a degree where it’s now accepted to ask legitimate questions about the America-Israel relationship. But Schumer’s speech at AIPAC—and please know, he wasn’t alone, and even as I write, Nancy Pelosi is making criticism-snuffing noises like “we will never allow anyone to make Israel a wedge issue”—proves that powerful interests are going to fight back tooth and nail in an attempt to ensure that blind support for Israel remains the norm, and that even the most thoughtful, intelligent, evidence-based critique gets lumped in with the callous slurs of bigots and anti-Semites.