NY Senator Charles Schumer told a New York Jewish audience a week ago that the U.S. and Israel have very different interests re a possible Iran deal and as a senator representing Americans, he may determine that the deal is in his country’s best interest. In a remarkably frank discussion of dual loyalty, he said his concern for Israel comes second.
“I have to do what’s right for the United States first of all, and Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel] second.”
Schumer says his opposition to the deal has made President Obama “mad,” but then suggested he’s going to come around. He told the Jewish group that a military strike on Iran may not work, and could cause the deaths of “tens of thousands” of Israelis. A deal will give the United States greater control over Iran’s program than it would have without a deal.
People have been watching Schumer’s response to the Iran deal closely, because the powerful senator has, atypically, been very quiet about the matter. Though he has opposed Obama’s actions, with the support of the rightwing Israel lobby, his acceptance of the deal could bring a lot of the pro-Israel faction in the American Congress on board. In the speech the senator spoke of himself as a guardian of Israel– “someone who tries to be a shomer Israel”– and said it was one of the most “momentous” decisions of his political life.
He has consulted closely with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, as well as getting five hours of briefings from Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman.
The story was first reported in Haaretz. “In speech to Orthodox Union, one of the most pro-Israel Democrats seems to be gearing up to back Obama in abandoning the military option on Iran.”
Schumer was open about the issue of dual loyalty. He said that he wanted to speak bluntly to the Jews in the room (“tachlis”) but that because the speech is being recorded, he was going to be more nuanced. “Some things should be said in the mishpocheh,” he said. He went on to explain the difference between the American interest and a Jewish interest (or the interest of “many” Jews, as Schumer explains). If President Obama or the average American thinks there’s a 95 percent chance that the deal is good, they’ll sign off on it; but Jews, almost all of whom support Israel, won’t find a 5 percent margin comforting. So this is a case, Schumer says, where American interests and Jewish interests are dissimilar– “there is a basic difference in viewpoint”– which is why it’s been such a difficult question for him.
The worst case is that Iran would get a nuclear weapon, because it might use it against Israel:
If God forbid, a nuclear weapon were to be exploded over Jerusalem… a million would die and everyone else would leave, so the millennium old dream of the Jewish people to have a homeland in Eretz Israel, now 67 years old, would be gone.
But the threat to the U.S. from an Iranian nuke is “not an existential one.” But it would change the balance of power. The odds are all too high that the Sunni nations would want to get a nuclear weapon, and they have a willing seller in Pakistan.
Now the next worst situation is a military strike against Iran. Why?
First, it’s not clear that it would be successful. Second, Iranians would direct terror attacks against the US and Israel. And at the minimum they’d direct Hezbollah to send 10s of thousands of rockets into Israel.
The odds are tens of thousands of Israelis could die.
Schumer moved on to the idea of a deal and acknowledged that Jews and organized Jewish groups are leading the opposition to a deal. “Why doesn’t the world see this the way we see it?” he asked. Well, let’s say the agreement has a 95 percent chance of assuring that Iran won’t have nuclear weapons.
“If you are president of the United States, president of one of the European countries, or an American, an average American, you say that’s pretty good to me…
“But because a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel, if you’re prime minister of Israel or an Israeli citizen or for that matter an American Jew or at least some American Jews, many, you say I can’t live with a 5 percent chance that Israel will be annihilated…. So there is a basic difference in viewpoint.”
Jews have to stand up for that different viewpoint, he said. Because in part for fear of being accused of dual loyalty, the American Jewish community “ignored the threat of Hitler, or pushed it aside–never mind, he’s just a maniac. And of course look what happened.” He said the New York Times covered up “the initial acts of depravity in Germany” because it didn’t want to be accused of dual loyalty.
For related reasons, Schumer doesn’t trust the Europeans.
Make no mistake about it, while the US sanctions are the toughest and most important, if the Europeans leave, and– it so bothers me to have the Jewish fate in European hands. People say have to please the French the Germans and the British. And the I tell them, we’ve been through this before, the Jewish people, of leaving our fate in the hands of Europeans.
He said anti-Semitism in Europe is equivalent to “racist anti-black sentiment” in America, it is deeply engrained.
Schumer said he is being very skeptical about the agreement as it moves forward, but he faulted Netanyahu for his obstructionist approach.
I have to tell you the day that Prime Minister Netanyahu came out, the day after the interim agreement. He made a mistake. He made a number of mistakes. Because no one thought he — He should have said, I have five or ten questions, I’m going to judge it on how those questions are answered.
Schumer then listed the questions he have. All are extremely detailed. First, what is the exact character of the inspection regime? Second, what actions cause the sanctions to be lifted? Third, Let’s say the sanctions are lifted, what are the snapback provisions; does the US need the allies or the UN to agree with us, or can the US restore sanctions on its own. Fourth, What are the inspections allowed on military sites? One is the size of Rhode Island. Fifth, what happens to the $100 billion that’s “sitting there” in frozen Iranian accounts because of the sanctions. Sixth, 10,000 kilograms of uranium goes down to what number, 300; and how much goes to Russia?
The senator has 14 pages of questions, he said, and has had five hours of briefings with top officials. He made it clear that the Jewish group would learn what he learns.
As I said, this is one of the most important decisions that I will ever make, as an American, as well as someone who tries to be a Shomer Yisrael. I’m spending much time on this, I’m talking to everyone, obviously including the administration and the prime minister of Israel. I’m talking to some very smart people on the other side. Bougi Herzog and [Amos] Yadlin, who was going to be the defense minister [in a Herzog led government], who’s very smart about these things…
I spent some time with Dr. Kissinger. I’m spending time with experts.
It’s a serious decision, and I’m an elected official 41 years. When you have the toughest decisions, you don’t let politics interfere, you don’t let party interfere, you don’t let pressure interfere, you do the right thing as best you can. That’s my promise to you. I assure you that’s what I’m going to do. It’s momentous times, ladies and gentlemen, momentous momentous times. The more I learn the more I’ll tell you.
Thanks to Scott Roth