As you surely have noticed, Senator Chuck Schumer has indicated that he is going to side with Republicans on the Iran deal rather than the Obama administration, because he is a “sincere and committed Israel hawk” (as his former intern Matt Yglesias says). Both the White House and State Department are trying to mollify the powerful senator to keep him from voting against the historic agreement in the end.
Where does this leave the rest of us? I don’t think that Democrats like Schumer have any clue of what is happening inside the Democratic Party base right now. When I mentioned Schumer’s likely apostasy at an art opening in my Hudson River town last night, a painter turned and began spitting fury. “F— him! F— him!” he said.
We are in the middle of a historic shift on Iran policy, aimed at preventing another war in the Middle East, and the leading Democratic senator is siding with the Republicans over the President? This is truly unprecedented, as Paul Pillar said at the Israel lobby conference in Washington yesterday (last speaker).
What the politicians don’t get is how angry even halfway-informed Americans are about these matters. They watched the Netanyahu appearance in Congress last month in disbelief. MJ Rosenberg said yesterday that Jews cringed over the performance. They did so because they know that other Americans were right to be outraged over such a naked demonstration of influence.
Issues of loyalty and the Israel lobby are now floating into our politics. When Rand Paul said, “We have come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank,” and Chris Matthews said Paul is talking about “neocons and the piggish money behind them,” both would seem to be upset by the lobby’s intrusion into our foreign policy.
Ed Schultz openly questioned Schumer’s loyalty in an MSNBC segment earlier this week:
Schultz asked [talk show host Joe Madison] if Schumer’s loyalty is with “Benjamin Netanyahu or with the President of the United States…” Madison replied:
“Not only should [Schumer’s loyalty] be to the President of the United States, but it should be to the United States of America. The President is clearly doing what he thinks is in the best interest of this country.”
This wasn’t the first time this week Schultz has made similar comments. On Monday, he said:
“Why didn’t Democrats oppose Reagan’s deal with Gorbachev? Probably because they were for America.”
No doubt dual loyalty can be an anti-semitic charge; but it also can be a legitimate issue. Even the New York Times says that Democratic politicians feel “loyalty to the Jewish state.” Last month the New York Times predicted, accurately, that Democrats
will eventually need to make an awkward, painful choice between the president of their country and their loyalty to the Jewish state.
Schumer has opened the door to the loyalty issue, when he says that his name in Hebrew means guardian; and that he acts as Israel’s guardian. Four years ago he said that God made him a guardian of the Jewish state. He told a Jewish radio host:
[M]y name as you know comes from a Hebrew word. It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov and I believe Hashem, actually [God], gave me name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate to be a shomer for Israel and I will continue to be that with every bone in my body
Ryan Cooper writes at The Week that if Schumer sandbags Obama on the historic Iran deal, he should not be the minority leader. And Cooper says Schumer’s stance is politically dangerous.
[P]ro-war Democrats have consistently underestimated the long-term political danger behind such casual aggressiveness. Just like Cory Booker, Schumer appears to have forgotten that voting for the Iraq War is the reason Hillary Clinton is not president today.
These are the elements of a groundswell against U.S. support for Israel. Remember that liberal Democrats sympathize with Palestinians over Israel now, by 68 to 60. And my sample is self-selecting, but I hear more and more non-Jews (post-Gaza, post-Netanyahu) saying that they don’t care about being accused of anti-Semitism if they criticize Israel, a fear that kept them quiet for decades. Just three months ago Jim Clancy lost his job at CNN for getting angry about “hasbara” in our discourse. A grotesque event; but Netanyahu’s appearance at the Congress is making Clancy look like a prophet.
The Times has a piece on Schumer that is at least halfway honest about pressure from the lobby:
Mr. Schumer, long personally hawkish on matters related to Israel, is caught between the Jewish voters and donors in his state and beyond who are pressuring him in conflicting directions, factions within his own party in the Senate, and a watchful White House that is seeking to limit the role of Congress in any deal it may make.
It is a struggle that several Senate Democrats with large Jewish constituencies face but who, unlike Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the co-sponsor of the bill pushing for congressional oversight of Iranian sanctions, have been typically strongly supportive of the White House.
Scott McConnell notes that this sort of reporting used to be verboten.
This detailed reporting [by the New York Times] about Israel-related money in a widely read centrist publication is an important and welcome development: until recently, it was subject hidden in whisper and awkward euphemism, as when two election cycles ago, retired general and possible presidential candidate Wesley Clark referred to “New York money people” pushing for war with Iran. Clark had to be walked through an apology with the assistance of Abe Foxman.
The media are reflecting, at some distance, a real anger among liberal Americans, libertarians, conservatives, anyone who doesn’t want another war in the Middle East. Schumer defies them at his own political peril.