Last night I was gobsmacked watching Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is chair of the Democratic National Committee, say on Hardball that she doesn’t know if she is going to support President Obama on the Iran deal. (The neocon Daily Caller nailed it– “waffling”).
“Let me ask you about the deal. You in it or out of the deal now — the nuclear deal? Where are you on that?” [Chris] Matthews asked.
“I’m taking my time to really know that deal well,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I’m going to go home and talk to my constituents.”
Let’s look at Wasserman Schultz’s constituencies. She’s chair of the party– well, Democrats are for the deal by 75-17. Wasserman Schultz’s district is surely behind the deal overwhelmingly; it;’s 49 percent Hispanic and black; it voted for Obama by 62-38 percent in the last election, when Florida went for Obama by just one point.
And Wasserman Schultz is a ready and willing and able proxy for the president; according to the Almanac of American Politics, she was a campaign workhorse for Obama in the last election, doing 885 events in 31 states (and you think pols have it easy).
Yes Wasserman Schultz has a lot of Jews in her district. But as I and the liberal Zionists keep writing, American Jews are for the deal overwhelmingly, 60-40 or more.
So why is Wasserman Schultz holding out?
The answer is in a word, the Israel lobby. The Jewish community is actually deeply divided over this issue, and the Jews who care the most are actively against the deal because they are closely attuned to Israeli interests. These pro-Israel Jews are feverishly well-organized and they tend to be older and richer than the overall numbers of Jews who are for the deal (and have never been to Israel).
Those engaged Jews are the leaders of the Jewish Federations that have opposed the deal in Miami, Houston, LA and Boston, and of the leading Israel lobby group, AIPAC, which is spending as much as $40 million in national ad buys against the deal.
When the LA Federation came out against the deal, it did so by citing its deference to Israeli interests. Richard Sandler, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, said:
“Since there was almost unanimity in Israel from the opposition and coalition government, we did not look at this as just a political issue…We looked at this as an existential issue, and as a community organization we had a responsibility to take a position on this one.”
That’s what the Israel lobby does; it sees what Israel wants and takes action accordingly. It is highly organized, and it commands a lot of money. Chris Matthews keeps saying that the Jewish community is diverse on these issues, but the lobby isn’t diverse. Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban are in different political parties, but they are two of the largest givers in our election campaigns, and Republican Adelson wants to nuke Iran and Democrat Saban wants to bomb the living daylights out of it.
As chair of the Democratic Party, Wasserman Schultz is a monster fundraiser, and has to raise a lot of money from folks like Saban. She doesn’t want to alienate them by supporting the deal.
And though J Street, the liberal Zionist group that supports the deal, is beginning to cut into that conservative older rich Jewish bloc that cares about Israel, it’s struggling. As Gabriel Erbs, a J Street board member, reports:
I’ve had 2 staffers now tell me their reps are feeling pressure from right-wing anti-deal $ and lobbyists.
Erbs is surely talking about “right wing” forces inside the Democratic Party: the Israel-right-or-wrong lobby, which transcends party.
A smart friend explains Wasserman Schultz’s calculus:
Anti-deal Jews are MUCH TOUGHER, and will be inclined to vote on the issue. For example, Dov Hikind got arrested protesting the deal at Chuck Schumer’s office, and she may not want that pain. Her seat is safe, but she’s not BELOVED. She’s also not Dianne Feinstein – who detests Netanyahu and has her own money and stature to the flip the bird and speak her mind
The same with liberal Democrat Jerry Nadler. Obama spent 20 minutes one-on-one to lobby him. Last year Nadler won with 78 percent of the vote– and he’s waffling. He doesn’t want rightwing Jews demonstrating outside his office.
And Jeffrey Goldberg, who cares deeply about maintaining an American audience, but takes almost all his positions based on what’s good for Israel, is also waffling. He keeps arguing that killing the deal won’t lead to war.
J Street is optimistic:
Jewish lawmakers now officially supporting the #IranDeal: Dianne Feinstein, Bernie Sanders, Sander Levin, Jan Schakowsky and John Yarmuth
And by the way, the great thing about the Iran deal going through over the opposition of AIPAC and the feverish Jewish community is that it is going to lead to open and vocal opposition to the lobby inside the Establishment. People are gonna speak up. Last night in his conference call Obama called out the lobbyists spending millions to kill the deal, just like they pushed the Iraq war. So ten years after I read Walt and Mearsheimer’s paper on the lobby in the LRB and declared, “It’s high noon for the Israel lobby,” it is now 10: 30 am. High noon is just around the corner.