This is excellent news. Both Chris Matthews and the New York Times are being explicit about the role of Israel as a political/emotional question for Democratic politicians struggling on the Iran Deal. Both news sources are addressing the Israel lobby as a force. Matthews even said that Chuck Schumer opposed the deal because he’s “going to defend the interests of Israel.”
First, here’s a story in The New York Times, “Wild Cards Remain as Democrats Add Supporters on Iran Deal.” Reporter Jonathan Weisman talks about the Dems who are agonizing without making a decision on the deal. The story goes right into the Who’s Jewish question:
Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan freshman, remains mum, even after Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the longest-serving Jewish House member, endorsed it, as did his respected brother, the recently retired chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin. Democrats are concerned that Mr. Peters’s chief of staff, Eric Feldman, who many Democrats said strongly supports the Israeli government, may be nudging him toward opposition.
Senator Ron Wyden, a mercurial member on many issues, is being buffeted between his Jewish roots and urban Oregon’s liberal voters already angry about his instrumental role in passing free trade legislation. His parents fled Nazi Germany.
Among the undecided senators, Democrats are closely watching for a signal from Mr. Coons, Mr. Durbin said. Mr. Coons said he has spoken with Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and is pressing for assurances that the administration will bolster military efforts in the Middle East to defend Israel and counter Iran’s non-nuclear aggression.
This is excellent reporting and is honest about the centrality of Jewishness/Israel to the discussion. It explains why President Obama sent a long letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler last week that was all about what Obama was doing for Israel to balance out the deal in the eyes of Israel-supporters and why Obama is speaking to the Jewish Federations’ audience on Friday.
The Times is saying that the Israel lobby is extremely powerful inside the Democratic Party in part because of the presence of influential Jews who are concerned about the Holocaust.
So we’re free to talk about the Holocaust and its shadow over American Jews. How large should the Jewish genocide be in our political conversation today? Are Jews persecuted in the west today? Are we likely to be? How did this history foster Zionism and blind us to the persecution of Palestinians? All these questions will come out soon, I promise you.
How fair is it that Wyden’s parents fleeing Nazi Germany has anything to do with our Middle East policy? The Holocaust was in Europe. Palestinians weren’t responsible. Imagine the Times saying Rep. McGuire’s ancestors fled the Potato Famine, and that’s sure to affect his decision on the trade agreement. You’d laugh. You don’t laugh here because– it’s a real factor in our politics, for a number of reasons, including historical memory and political fundraising.
Now here’s Chris Matthews. Last night he had a lively conversation about the Iran Deal politics with Republican strategist John Feehery and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart. Matthews taunted Feehery that he ought to turn foreign policy over to the Israeli Knesset, since Israel is the only issue for Republicans; and when Capehart tried to rationalize Chuck Schumer’s opposition to the deal as the product of close study, Matthews got impatient with him too.
“You’re underestimating the intelligence of our viewers,” he said. We all know why Schumer opposes the deal, he said, devotion to Israel.
Here’s some of the back and forth:
Matthews (to Feehery): What’s your problem with [the deal]?
Feehery: It alienates… it puts in danger our biggest ally in the region, which is Israel… I’d like a deal that Israel could sign off on.
Matthews: What deal would Netanyahu sign with Iran? Is it conceivable?
[Feehery then cites Democrat Chuck Schumer’s opposition.]
Matthews: He’s concerned about Israel. We know that.
Feehery: Israel thinks it’s a really bad deal.
Matthews: So why not turn it over to the Knesset then? Why even have a foreign policy in this country? Your argument is so single-minded. One issue. Of course that country is against it. And by the way in Israel there’s a mixture of opinion…. If [Schumer had] gone the other way, that would have been news.
Capehart: At least Senator Schumer waited for the deal to come out, sat in his Barcalounger in Brooklyn and read through the deal, had his concerns, and came out against it.
Matthews: I have no problem with Chuck Schumer, he made a decision… I understand.
Feehery: How can you say Chuck Schumer made the right decision and the Republicans made the wrong decision when they came to the same conclusion?
Capehart: The Republicans kneejerked their way into rejecting it.
Matthews: You’re underestimating the intelligence of our viewers…. Chuck Schumer’s going to defend the interests of Israel and it’s legitimate he do so. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Feehery: Why can’t our president do the same thing?
Matthews: He has other concerns.
A lot to unpack there, but Chris Matthews is saying a Jewish NY senator is allowed to be for Israel as his overruling concern; and maybe too that Schumer needs to raise money for his run to replace Harry Reid as Democratic leader. Matthews is impatient with Capehart’s mystification about the lobby. “You’re underestimating the intelligence of our viewers.” We all know the story. The media are way behind.
Now back to that Times report, whose second paragraph describes “a freshman senator from Michigan whose closest aide has a pro-Israeli government bent.” The chief of staff to Michigan Senator Gary Peters is Eric Feldman. He’s been at Senator Peters’s side for a long time, and is surely Jewish. From a Michigan Gannett paper:
Feldman has been Peters’ Chief of Staff during his three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in 2009. Prior to working for Peters, Feldman served as Policy Director for then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel.
“I am fortunate to have an experienced Michigan native like Eric Feldman as my Chief of Staff in Washington,” Peters said. “Eric cares deeply about Michigan and its residents, and over the last six years, he has proven that he can help me get things done for Michiganders and our middle class families.”
Rahm Emanuel was seen as an essential companion for Barack Obama; he was his Good Housekeeping Seal on the Israel question, because Emanuel was devoted to Israel. Now Emanuel’s protege shows up at the side of another ambitious non-Jewish midwestern politician. What is the power of the Israel lobby inside blue states? That is what’s going on here; and it’s going to be argued in next year’s primaries. Thanks to the growing candor of Chris Matthews and the New York Times, we’re going to talk about the Jewish generational attachment to Israel (Bernie Sanders) and whether that’s appropriate, realistic, moral.
By the way, the companion refrain to these reports about the lobby’s role is the effort to get everyone to stop talking about Israel and the Iran Deal. Write Charles Bronfman, Susie Gelman and Peter Joseph in Haaretz: “Ugly Summer for U.S. Jews as Iran Debate Morphs Into War.” They are upset that the media are discussing the lobby so openly.
What should be a legitimate heated debate over policy has become a fight over who is welcome under the American Jewish tent, and not only is it destroying the American Jewish community from the inside, it is playing into the hands of those who doubt Jewish motives and loyalty and whose anti-Semitism is apparent.
The problem with that argument is that when the Israel lobby groups “take orders from Netanyahu,” in the words of a leading Israeli journalist, or when a leading Jewish organization calls on Jews to heed Israel’s fears about the deal even if they are for it, the issue of whose interest you’re supporting is absolutely relevant. Even Chris Matthews is asking about outsourcing our foreign policy to the Knesset.
Bronfman, Gelman and Joseph continue:
the vicious internecine warfare and the focus on Jewish views and votes is creating the perception that the Iran issue revolves primarily around Israel, obscuring the fundamental fact that Iran’s nuclear ambitions present a global problem and not a parochial one.
But even the Times and President Obama are addressing Jews as super-voters on this question. This is at the end:
When the Iran deal debate has concluded, American Jews must be able to unite again in support of common positions, including ensuring Israel’s ironclad safety in a post-deal world, securing its future as a Jewish democracy, and maintaining a rock solid U.S.-Israel alliance.
So that’s what it’s about. Sticking together to support Israel. When many Americans want a different foreign policy. Including many Jews.