Chuck Schumer: Mainstream Democrat

The heir apparent to Harry Reid justifies the "economic strangling" of Gazans

Published June 12, 2010 11:13AM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, spoke to an event of Orthodox Jewish leaders on Wednesday and made comments that can only be described as bigoted and disgusting.  Kudos to Zaid Jilani who, despite working for the Democratic Party-serving Center for American Progress, wrote about Schumer's remarks on CAP's ThinkProgress blog and explained the reasons they were filled with falsehoods, or -- as he put it -- "as offensive as they are wrong."

Schumer told his audience that the "Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution" and added that "they don’t believe in the Torah, in David."  As a result,"you have to force them to say Israel is here to stay."  It's the Israeli blockade which accomplishes that, he argued.  And Schumer is due some credit for being honest enough (unlike most devoted Israel defenders) to admit that a prime purpose of the blockade has nothing to do with keeping arms away from Hamas, but rather, is to economically strangle the people in Gaza -- meaning not Hamas, but the 1.5 million human beings (men, women and children) who live there:

And to me, since the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas, while certainly there should be humanitarian aid and people not starving to death, to strangle them economically until they see that's not the way to go, makes sense.

So as long as Israel stops just short of starving them all to death, then what Israel is doing is justified -- just like John Yoo explained that American torture is perfectly legal and permissible just as long as it stops short of causing major organ failure or death (or, as Juan Cole put it, "anything short of 'starving to death', i.e. mass extermination in the camps, is all right as long as it convinces the enemy?").  I think the most repugnant part of Schumer's comments is when he spoke about Gazans as though they were dogs needing to be trained to behave properly:  the blockade is justified because it shows the Palestinians living there that "when there's some moderation and cooperation, they can have an economic advancement."  Is that -- punish the people of Gaza for the acts of Terrorists -- not the very definition of "collective punishment," which happens to be a war crime under the Geneva Conventions?  The crowd -- as the video of Schumer's speech reflects (below) -- erupted in wild cheers at his comments.  

Of course, before Israeli propagandists began claiming for the consumption of Americans that the purpose of the blockade was to keep arms away from Terrorists, they freely admitted what Schumer acknowledged; when the blockade was first instituted, Dov Weisglass, adviser to then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."  Indeed, Schumer made very similar remarks back in April when -- in the middle of condemning Obama for the crime of applying minimal pressure on Israel -- he told an interviewer:  "Israel has blocked off the border and not let anything into Gaza, and I support Israel in doing that, and it may be tough on the Palestinian people, but when they vote for Hamas they are going to have to suffer the consequences."  If a country doesn't vote for the leaders Chuck Schumer and Israel want, their children will be malnourished to the point of stunted growth, pervasive anemia, and massive food insecurity.  Aside from how morally repugnant and criminal those actions are, see here for how harmful it is to America's national interests, something with which Schumer appears completely unconcerned (they hate us for our Freedoms!).

At his personal blog, CAP's Jilani elaborated on why Schumer's remarks are so foul, including asking us to imagine what would happen if, say, Rep. Keith Ellison gave a speech urging that all Israelis be denied "fresh meat, basic medical supplies, and a whole host of humanitarian items" as a result of the horrific acts of the government they elected.  Condemnation would pour down on him from all corners.  That's the same glaring double standard that just ended Helen Thomas' career even though people as disparate as Mike Huckabee, Dick Armey and Matt Yglesias have said virtually the same exact thing about Palestinians that Thomas said about Israelis without any repercussions whatsoever (indeed, have seen their careers flourish afterward, though Yglesias, who was in college at the time, clearly no longer believes anything like that and now sees his remarks as "terrible").  Numerous people have written very good posts about why Schumer's comments are as false as they are repugnant -- see Juan Cole, David Dayen, Philip Weiss, and Taylor Marsh (who said, accurately:  "This is your Democratic Party hierarchy, folks").

That last point, made by Marsh, is the critical one.  This is why I've come to see the Democratic Party (and its apologists and loyalists in the pundit class) much differently now that it's in power rather than out of it.  Just look at Schumer himself.  He isn't some obscure Democratic official; he's one of its leading figures.  He's not one of those dreaded Blue Dogs or "conservative" Democrats which Party pundit-apparatchiks and reverent Obama loyalists love to exploit to excuse the Party's flaws (don't blame the weak and helpless Obama; he is a prisoner to those bad, powerful conservative Democrats); rather, Schumer is considered progressive, or at least mainstream, within the Party, representing one of its largest and bluest states.  If anyone is the face of the mainstream Democratic Party, it's Chuck Schumer.  That's why he's clearly the most likely replacement for Harry Reid to become Senate Majority Leader if Reid loses in November.

But look at what Schumer represents, who he is.  Schumer championed countless, radical Bush appointees (including John Bolton, Michael Mukasey and Michael Hayden), but then sabatoged Obama's appointment of Chas Freeman due to insufficient devotion to Israel.  As The New York Times documented, he has long served as one of Wall Street's most loyal and devoted servants, reaping huge benefits for himself and his Party.  As the financial reform package gets negotiated and watered down, Schumer leads the way in doing Wall Street's bidding.  After spending years sucking up union money, he just congratulated Blanche Lincoln for fighting unions (and, showing how cynical he is, also congratulated her for fighting Wall Street even as business interests almost single-handedly funded her campaign and as he himself continues to serve as the most devoted property of bankers).  So that's Chuck Schumer:  suffocate Gazans; champion Bush national security appointees; punish those with insufficient devotion to Israel; serve Wall Street.  And that, by definition, is the mainstream of the Democratic Party. 

* * * * *

One last, related note:  Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman, one of Israel's most steadfast defenders in Congress, last week demanded, while speaking on a conference call organized by "pro-Israel groups," that the Justice Department prosecute all American citizens who were on board the flotilla attacked by Israel (for, in essence, providing material support to Terrorists by trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans), as well as demanding that Homeland Security permanently ban all the other passengers from entering the U.S.  In this conflict that involved a foreign nation (Israel) against numerous American citizens, one of which ended up being shot four times in the head by the foreign country's commandos, Sherman sides with the foreign nation and calls for the Americans involved to be imprisoned.  I spent the last week emailing with Sherman's Communications Director, Matt Farrauto, in an attempt to schedule a podcast interview (or other type of interview) with Sherman about his demands.  Suffice to say, I have some questions to ask Sherman about his ideas.  After repeatedly indicating that he would try to schedule something, Farrauto -- who sent me a pro forma statement from Sherman on this matter -- emailed last night to say, without explanation:  "Not sure that I'm going to get him for an interview. Is the statement useful for your purposes?"

I asked Farrauto whether Sherman has agreed to any interviews where he faced skeptical or adversarial questions about his radical call for American citizens to be prosecuted for trying to deliver humanitarian aid in violation of Israel's wishes.  He hasn't responded, and I'll post any response I get.  But that's Brad Sherman:  cowardly issuing demands like that in front of highly sympathetic Israel activists, but then refusing to answer actual questions about it.


UPDATE:  Earlier in the week, McClatchy obtained internal Israeli documents demonstrating that the purpose of the blockade isn't about security but, rather, "economic warfare."  Meanwhile, M.J. Rosenberg writes about the numerous Congressional Democrats lining up to support Israel's attack on the flotilla.


UPDATE II:  The aforementioned Matt Yglesias, of the aforementioned CAP, has a post condemning what he calls Schumer's "disgusting" remarks, and he adds some thoughts about Israel and Gaza generally.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Chuck Schumer D-n.y. Israel-palestine