So far, Schumer has largely been silent even as other historically fierce defenders of Israel, such as Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), have spoken up.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s longtime support for Israel puts him on a collision course with the progressive wing of his party as the conflict between Israel and Hamas worsens.
Why it matters: This is the toughest political position the New York Democrat has been in since becoming majority leader. The fighting in the Middle East is dividing his party — and creating a clear rift among its different wings.
- Deepening the challenge: Schumer is up for re-election next year and one of his potential opponents — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — is one of the most vocal progressive critics of the actions taken by Israel’s leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
- While President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are similarly boxed in after ascending to power in a pro-Israel environment, Schumer faces this problem most acutely.
The backdrop: Schumer, the first Jewish Senate majority leader, rose to prominence in part thanks to a career in New York politics built on a foundation of pro-Israel credentials.
- He frequently bucked President Obama on Middle East policy, including opposing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
- That put him at odds with the majority of his party but aligned him with Israel. He later criticized President Trump for leaving the deal and said a new agreement should be negotiated.
- In 2019, Schumer delivered a speech at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee meeting in which he said: “You can be, all at once, completely Jewish, completely pro-Israel and completely American.”
- It was a poke at another Squad member — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — who had leveled sharp criticisms against supporters of Israel.
Flash-forward to the current crisis. So far, Schumer has largely been silent even as other historically fierce defenders of Israel, such as Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), have spoken up.
- Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who’s Jewish, led a group of 29 Democratic senators in calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
- Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) — the top members of the Foreign Relations’ Middle East subcommittee — issued the first bipartisan statement in support of a ceasefire.
Schumer told reporters Monday he agrees with the Murphy-Young statement and wants to see a ceasefire “reached quickly.”
- He did not discuss the issue during his floor remarks — one of the most prominent stages he commands as majority leader.
- His comments came shortly before Biden announced he backed a ceasefire for the first time during a call with Netanyahu.
- Meanwhile, a series of progressives have condemned Israel’s behavior under Netanyahu.
Between the lines: Schumer has worked diligently to solidify his support on the left, strengthening his position against Ocasio-Cortez or another progressive in 2022.
Navigating the current crisis in the Middle East — particularly when his fellow members are being far more vocal on the issue — is a foreign policy challenge that has a larger domestic impact on him.