A largely-overlooked aspect of President Obama’s decision to allow a denunciation of Israeli settlements to pass the UN Security Council ten days ago is the criticism he has gotten from his own party. Only three congressional Democrats have been outspoken in his support, so far as I can determine, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, as well as Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky.
Meanwhile there has been a chorus of denunciation of Obama’s decision coming from the likes of even good liberals, Jerrold Nadler, Richard Blumenthal, Hakeem Jeffries, Adam Schiff, Sherrod Brown, and Ron Wyden.
And what about the heroes of the left in the party? Elizabeth Warren was active on twitter on December 23, but has had nothing to say that I can find about the UN Resolution. The same for Bernie Sanders.
This pattern is important because it demonstrates how politically brave President Obama was in abstaining from a resolution the world is behind him on. Of course he should have demonstrated such bravery years ago. But make no mistake, this is what he is up against: the Democratic Party wants no part of his political courage here. And that’s because of money. The donor class of the Democratic Party is, as even Jeffrey Goldberg says, “delicately,” made up of Jews; and those older Jews skew much more pro-Israel than American Jews overall. In fact, an article in the rightwing National Post in Canada attacks Obama for taking the money from big Jews and then turning against them on this resolution.
Let’s dip into the record of defection from Obama over this resolution.
Jerry Nadler, leading liberal Dem, supported Obama on the Iran Deal. Not this time. He faults the “narrative” Obama created and the opening for Israel’s delegitimization. Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
“I am deeply disappointed by today’s events at the United Nations Security Council, particularly the United States’ abstention, damaging any hope for, or progress on, an eventual peace agreement. Rather than bringing a peaceful accord nearer, the United Nations Security Council’s approval of today’s one-sided resolution pushes both sides further apart. The resolution seeks to create an irresponsible and inaccurate narrative, making no mention of Palestinian responsibility, either for their incitement of violence or their refusal to return to talks with the Israelis, and only serves the purpose of seeking to delegitimize Israel on the world stage. The only way there can ever be an Israeli-Palestinian peace is through direct negotiations between the parties, not with imposed solutions.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio also expressed disappointment over the vote. From a spokesperson:
Mayor de Blasio said clearly that the U.N.’s role in the peace process has never been helpful. Like many at home and abroad, the Mayor also acknowledged that the ultimate consequences of the U.N.’s resolution cannot be predicted and that the effect of the U.S.’s abstention is unclear. What is clear is that the U.N.’s anti-Israel positioning in the Middle East does nothing to advance the peace process. In the Mayor’s view, the pathway to peace does not run through Geneva but through direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Senator Dan Murphy of Connecticut said Obama doesn’t know what he is doing:
[T]his, in the end, may have the very opposite effect that Obama and Kerry hope.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, so outspoken on other justice issues, is all for Israel here (NY1):
“Israel is still our closest ally in the Middle East and from my perspective, the United States should continue to play the role of diplomatic shield before the United Nations… “I would have advised the president and his UN ambassador to veto that particular Security Council resolution.”
Younger liberals Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Adam Schiff aren’t so liberal here. JTA:
The junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat, wrote in a statement: “I call on the Administration to do everything in its power to make sure this resolution is not put forward or passed.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., wrote in a statement sent out by his office: “Unilateral resolutions of this kind do not advance the cause of peace, and I would urge the Administration to make every effort to oppose its being brought forward and make it clear that it will veto the measure if necessary.”
Extremely frustrating, disappointing & confounding that the Administration has failed to veto the UN resolution.
Didn’t we expect more from Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal?
“Consistent with past policy, this Administration must now veto this most recent misguided and one-sided attempt backed by the Palestinian Authority to isolate Israel and weaken the peace process,” Blumenthal said. “The draft United Nations resolution directly contradicts the Senate resolution I authored – and passed unanimously last year – condemning Palestinian terrorism and calling on all parties to return to the negotiating table immediately and without preconditions…. This United Nations resolution would undermine, if not undo, the chances for productive discussions between the two sides.”
Not a surprise, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was over the top:
“I condemn in the strongest of terms the United Nations Security Council’s passage of this one-sided, anti-Israel resolution, as well as the United States’ reckless abstention. As a Member of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, I opposed this resolution because our nation has consistently supported direct, bilateral negotiations as the only viable method to achieve a lasting peace. In fact, this irresponsible action moves us further away from peace and hastens the likelihood that we lose the trust of our allies around the world.
“Let me be clear: the only way to resolve this conflict is – and will always be – through direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It is baffling and unacceptable that the Obama Administration would abstain on this blatant attempt to internationalize this conflict and perpetuate the UN’s atrocious and biased record against our only true and dependable ally in the Middle East, the State of Israel. Simply put, today’s vote did nothing to bring us any closer to a lasting peace. Instead, it has accomplished just the opposite.”
“I am deeply disappointed that the administration set aside longstanding U.S. policy to allow such a one-sided resolution to pass,” Wyden said. “Actions like this will only take us further from the peace we all want to see.”
Progressive favorite Sherrod Brown was not so progressive:
“Earlier this fall I joined Senate colleagues urging the Administration to uphold its position opposing one-sided resolutions at the U.N. Security Council regarding Israel. Any lasting peace must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, not imposed by the international community. My hope is that a new year will bring a new commitment by both sides to earnestly work towards a peace agreement.”
Eliot Engel of course was against it, but Mark Warner of Virginia echoed the talking points: “one-sided resolutions” at the UN are counterproductive to the peace process and “achieving a two-state solution.”
“I am dismayed that the administration departed from decades of U.S. policy by not vetoing the UN resolution regarding Israeli settlements,” Warner said.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted against the Iran deal, so his opposition is not surprising. Though he makes settlement building sound like a great thing:
“I urge the Obama administration to veto the United Nations resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building.”
A lot of Dems just stayed away. Keith Ellison wants to be party chair. He surely regards the resolution as a great thing (given his stance on settlements in the party platform last June) but has the wisdom to keep his mouth shut. Ditto Obama’s Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is also in contention for the job. Howard Dean has had nothing to say. Reports are that Dick Durbin, Harry Reid, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow, Amy Klobuchar, and Al Franken have also run for cover.
Here are the bright spots. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s support for Obama was full-throated, calling the measure an “absolute necessity”–
“I’ve watched with growing concern the increase in Israeli settlements over the years, where approximately 400,0000 individuals now live. I believe the expansion of settlements has but one goal: to undermine the viability of a two-state solution.”
Pat Leahy had the president’s back, but wasn’t vociferous.
Throughout these years, U.S. military aid to Israel has increased, even as prospects for a two state solution, which Israeli leaders have consistently claimed to want, have steadily diminished. And even as the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict has itself become a threat to the national security of the United States.
“I commend President Obama and Ambassador Power for making clear that while we deplore the failure of the Palestinian leadership to condemn violence and will defend Israel against any foe, we will do so in a manner that says we must also defend America’s interests as Ambassador Power did
J Street tweeted a number of Democratic congresspeople supporting John Kerry’s speech in which he defended the U.S. decision at the U.N., including Steve Cohen of Tennessee and David Price of North Carolina. But on MSNBC Steve Cohen seemed to dodge the UN question, not endorsing the resolution as such, though he praised Obama’s policy. Price was also careful not to mention the U.N. resolution, while praising John Kerry’s speech on the matter.
Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky was a profile in courage: “I strongly endorse… the decision to allow the U.N. Security Council to pass the resolution.”
Again, I’d emphasize this is all about money. The extent of Democratic dependence on Jews for funding campaigns is “gigantic” and “shocking,” per this panel of experts convened by J Street, which has supported the president. As the Hill said in 2013:
The Iran nuclear deal has put new strains on President Obama’s relationship with Jewish donors, a pillar of Democratic fundraising.
Rightwinger Lawrence Solomon in the National Post in Canada explicitly praises Jewish financial pressure, and accuses Obama of betraying those powerful donors. In the last minute, when he didn’t have to run again.
Winning Jewish support wasn’t especially important to Obama and other Democrats in terms of votes — Jews represent just two per cent of the U.S. electorate, generally making their numbers inconsequential at the ballot box. But Jews are hugely important — even decisive — in their political giving. The Jewish two per cent — which is overwhelmingly liberal — accounts for about two-thirds of all donations received by the Democratic Party. Put another way, the Jewish two per cent donates twice as much to Democrats as the non-Jewish 98 per cent.
The importance of Jewish money to Democratic fortunes explains why Obama waited to make his moves against Israel until after his two presidential campaigns and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, whom he hoped would preserve his legacy. If Jews understood his real intentions toward Israel, Obama knew, many would withdraw their financial support.
Obama’s prudent course — his only viable course — in realizing his desire to strip Israel of its paramount possessions, embodiments of its heritage, was to keep his intentions secret, all the while upping his rhetoric that “no president has ever done more for Israel.” Obama also needed to maintain this public pretence to keep his fellow Democrats in the dark, most of whom would blanche at the thought of offending, and losing, their Jewish backers.
The dependence of Israel on rich Jews in the U.S. is becoming an issue for young Jews, who don’t like that type of politics. #IfNotNow has slammed “the Jewish establishment,” and I’d note that Eva Illouz’s important piece about “an earthquake in the Jewish world” in Haaretz ends with a swipe at the spiritual hollowness of values based on material gain:
a part of the Jewish organizational world today resembles the state of the Church before it was challenged by Martin Luther. It displays the same mixture of fundamentalism, politics and money, a mixture that nowhere in the history of mankind has elicited respect or elevated the spirit.
Somehow I doubt all those Democratic pols are reading that.
I may be missing some statements. I’ll update if I have left supporters out.
Update: Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois supported the Obama abstention at the U.N. in this New Year’s Eve Facebook post.