New Yorkers rallied Monday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Senator Chuck Schumer, most of them demonstrating against his decision to oppose the Iran deal. Counterprotestors also assembled, expressing support for Schumer and denouncing the nuclear negotiations in the shadow of a large inflatable mushroom cloud.
The protest was organized by Peace Action New York State, which called on those “ready to take to the streets over Senator Schumer’s decision” to join them in passing out flyers, collecting signatures on petitions, and encouraging Schumer’s constituents to call his office and express their disapproval. Israel’s role in the campaign against the deal, and its influence over Schumer in particular, was a prominent theme of the signs and slogans at the rally; along with antiwar anthems “Down by the Riverside” and “Give Peace a Chance,” chants of “Barry, not Bibi” could be heard. Several placards demanded that Schumer pay with his leadership role for trying to thwart the president’s signature foreign policy initiative.
Though smaller, the pro-Schumer contingent was animated and vocal. A flyer handed out by opponents of the deal quoted talking points from Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI), a Likud-style advocacy group:
We are relieved that [Schumer] took this FIRST STEP. He heard our voices, the voices of every single person who called, who wrote, who sent postcards, and who rallied. He was strong enough to go against a President he was championed many times before.
We need to call Senator Schumer (212-486-4430) and ( and come in person to his offices) [sic] to let him know that we thank him for this. WE must also make clear that it is not only his vote on the rejection of the deal, BUT ALSO HIS CONTINUED SUPPORT IN VOTING FOR AN OVERRIDE of an EXPECTED VETO that will assure his place in history. He is still a leader in the Senate who is able and should be working to get other lawmakers on the side of right! We are counting on him!
The flyer also noted, “There has been an ugly insinuation that the positions are coming in along religious lines,” providing the URL to a New York Times story on the aftershocks of Schumer’s decision among Congressional Democrats. In addition to calling for gratitude toward Schumer for his supposedly brave stance — “WE MUST MEET HIS CALL FOR A RETURN TO SANCTIONS FOR IRAN AND PERHAPS OTHER NATIONS WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF FUTURE NEGOTIATIONS DOWN THE LINE WITH A GREAT BIG YASHER KOACH!” — AFSI reminded people to keep pressuring New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who has said she will support the “imperfect” Iran deal. “It’s not too late to change her mind!” the flyer declared.
The presence of both pro- and anti-deal protesters led to some interesting exchanges. One Schumer critic explained to two anti-Iran demonstrators that the Wahhabi ideology of our ally Saudi Arabia is far more threatening to world peace than Shiism; they replied that Saudi Arabia has signaled an intention to develop its own nuclear capability if the Iranian program is not dismantled.
Nearly everyone at the rally was middle-aged or older, and though the peaceniks were probably less elderly on average, they almost certainly could claim the most senior protestor: Lillian Pollak, age 100, sat at a table near the picket lines, watching the demonstration amid the regular lunchtime crowd. She held a placard that read “Schumer voters, say Yes Yes to Iran nuclear deal.” Historically, Pollak said, “Israel has been able to hold up any kind of a peace deal, or progress, by the threat card.” But things are different. In 1960s America, “Israel was in. All the young people were dancing the hora and sending money to Israel and flocking to Israel. It took a long, long time. First of all, what changed were some of the massacres that took place against the Palestinians. And the fact that young people were learning to become disillusioned. It’s taking a long time, but I sit there, and I see a change.” She observed that people are more receptive now to protests like this one: “There’s information coming out. They are not able to lie infamously and get away with it.” And she remembered the days seventy years ago when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan: “People were running around waving the papers, shouting, ‘Hooray, we stopped the war,'” heedless of so many innocent victims. “People were happy. People are finally starting to turn away toward peace. You can’t get away with preaching patriotism all these years.”
When I asked some Schumer supporters if they were affiliated with any organization, one woman smiled and told me they represented “the ‘I Love America’ group.” A man nearby sternly interjected that no such group existed; they were simply there to support Schumer’s “difficult decision,” which the senator made despite threats that he would be “deprived of power.” The man, who identified himself as Wayne Lacks of Brooklyn, a registered Democrat, told me why the deal was bad — most alarmingly, “at the end of 10 years the administration says Iran will have nuclear weapons.” He outlined several fatal flaws — continuing enrichment of uranium, the lifting of ICBM-related sanctions within eight years, a lack of snap inspections, the fact that Iran gets to provide its own soil samples — before concluding that this agreement is “only enhancing war. Of course I want peace as much as anyone, for heaven’s sakes.”