Chuck Schumer needs a history lesson on Israel — and on a changing America

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaking at the AIPAC Strategy Conference in Washington, DC. (photo: Getty Images)

Young Americans, including young American Jews, are more critical of Israel than their elders. But it’s not because they’re ignorant of history — it’s because they’re less enthralled by myth.

By Peter Beinhart | Forward | Mar 7, 2018

The real problem confronting Schumer isn’t that young Americans are ignorant. It’s that more and more of them are knowledgeable enough to realize that Israeli policy in both the West Bank and Gaza massively violates Palestinian human rights. And to wonder why a Democrat like Chuck Schumer is supporting policies so antithetical to the progressive principles he claims to hold dear.

Chuck Schumer is worried about young people. In his speech on Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, he warned that “too many of the younger Americans don’t know the history” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “and as a result they tend to say, well, both sides are to blame.” And so — after a joke about a Mrs. Goldfarb who is sentenced to one night in jail for each of the four peaches she stole, and whose husband yells to the judge, “She stole a can of peas, too” (relevance: unclear) — the Senate Minority leader offered a history lesson to America’s youth.

He began with the settlements. “There are some who argue, the settlements are the reason there’s not peace,” Schumer declared. “But we all know what happened in Gaza. Israel voluntarily got rid of the settlements there. The soldiers, Israeli soldiers dragged the settlers out of Netzarim and three weeks later the Palestinians threw rockets into Sderot. It’s sure not the settlements that are the blockage to peace.” Take that Israel-queasy millennials.

The implication of Schumer’s tale is that because Palestinians kept fighting Israel even after Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza, Palestinians don’t really care about settlements. Their real beef is with Israel’s very existence.

But there are problems with this logic. First, in the same year it withdrew its roughly 8,000 settlers from Gaza, Israel increased its settler population overall. In fact, some of the Jewish settlers evacuated from Gaza joined the far-larger settler population in the West Bank. And since the Palestine Liberation Organization’s stated goal was not a Palestinian state in Gaza alone, but a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, the settlements, from a Palestinian perspective, very much remained a “blockage to peace.”

Schumer’s narrative also ignores the fact that even after Israel withdrew its settlers, it remained Gaza’s occupying power according to both the United Nations and the United States. Even before the 2006 election that Hamas won, Israel controlled entry and exit into Gaza by air, land and sea (in conjunction with Egypt, which controlled the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza’s south). Israel controlled Gaza’s population registry. And it maintained a security barrier inside the Gaza Strip. After Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Israel and the United States — rather than supporting a coalition government that would have left Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian Authority’s president, as Hamas proposed —urged Abbas’s allies to overturn the election results by force.

When that gambit failed, and Hamas solidified its control in Gaza, Israel dramatically restricted the movement of goods and people in and out of the Strip, which wrecked Gaza’s economy. None of this justifies Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. But it gravely undermines Schumer’s claim that, once Israel withdrew its Gaza settlers, it removed any legitimate reason for Palestinian discontent.

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