Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Chuck Schumer's Humilation

"You know, my name comes from the word shomer: guardian, watcher,” Senator Chuck Schumer told the host of a Jewish radio program in 2010. “My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov. And I believe Hashem actually gave me that name. One of my roles, very important in the United States Senate, is to be a shomer, to be the shomer Yisrael”—the guardian of Israel—“and I will continue to be that with every bone in my body.” Schumer and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s efforts to rally Democratic opposition to President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal have now failed. On Tuesday, the support of Senators Richard Blumenthal, Ron Wyden, and Gary Peters assured Obama that any Republican resolution of disapproval would not even come up for a vote. But the extraordinary identity Schumer was claiming—to be a “guardian of Israel,” without apparent fear of being at odds with American foreign policy or the Democratic Party—may be the greater loss. It’s hard to see how AIPAC, and Schumer, come out of the Iran fight with the authority they had going in.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s story, which he is sticking to, is that Israel and AIPAC have won a moral victory. Dore Gold, the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told Israel’s Army Radio that Netanyahu never intended to keep the deal from being approved but rather to raise awareness about its perils. “Most of Congress is against the deal,” as is Isaac Herzog, who leads the opposition in the Knesset, Gold added. He then returned to the claims that Netanyahu made in his speech before Congress in March—that the deal was bad, that it endangered Israel—which might have been mistaken for an attempt to convince American legislators to reject it.

AIPAC’s influence was first advanced, in the nineteen-seventies, by hard-line Democratic senators like Henry Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who felt that the State Department was controlled by Eisenhower-era Republicans who were too indebted to oil interests and not adequately sympathetic to Israel’s plight. Ever since AIPAC managed to coördinate the defeat of Republican Senator Charles Percy, in 1984 (Percy was then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and had argued that Jewish settlements preëmpt Palestinian rights), AIPAC has been able to present itself as a powerhouse, flush with money, focussed on Congress, and with strong claims on both Republican hawks and evangelicals and the Democratic center. Tom Dine and Steven Grossman, AIPAC leaders in the eighties and nineties, were Democratic operatives; Grossman went on to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee under Bill Clinton. President Obama courted AIPAC’s support in 2008, assuring attendees of its yearly conference that Jerusalem would be “undivided.”

Israel, in AIPAC’s playbook, is the best judge of its defense needs, a sister democracy, and, besides, a strategic asset in a volatile region. (It proved this for the first time in September, 1970, when Israeli jets helped protect the Jordanian monarch from a Palestinian insurgency and Syrian invasion.) Schumer’s opposition to the Iran deal was supposed to signal that AIPAC remained influential among Democratic principals and fund-raisers, and that the man who chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2005 to 2009, and is now the favorite to lead Senate Democrats when Harry Reid retires, could still fend off challenges to Israeli policy—if, for example, the U.N. Security Council were to vote on another resolution condemning West Bank settlements. The signal, meant to be cautionary, seems rather weak.

Even if, as some claim, Schumer came out against Obama only because he knew he could not muster the votes to override a Presidential veto, he surely expected to make a better showing. Now progressive groups like MoveOn have rallied Democratic insurgents to call Schumer’s prospective Senate leadership into question. AIPAC officials know that Netanyahu is to blame for emancipating Democrats from AIPAC’s embrace. “Netanyahu’s speech in Congress made the Iranian issue a partisan one,” an AIPAC official told Israel’s Walla!News. “As soon as he insisted on going ahead with this move, which was perceived as a Republican maneuver against the President, we lost a significant part of the Democratic Party, without which it was impossible to block the agreement.” AIPAC’s efforts to exploit Herzog’s opposition to the deal were almost as counterproductive, given that the deal has the support of Israeli Army and intelligence leaders, including Amos Yadlin, the man who Herzog said would have been his defense minister, had he defeated Netanyahu. As Channel Two’s veteran analyst Amnon Abramovitch told me, “Herzog’s effort to gain some reputation for ‘security’ and lean to the center is an understandable political move. But Iran is a subject that inevitably involves Israeli-American relations, and here Herzog got messed up.”

Read on at The New Yorker