I would have hated to be New York Senator Chuck Schumer for the last month or so. Sure, the perks might have been great but “Oy, the pressure!” Since the signing of the Iran Nuclear Accords in July, he was identified as the senatorial linchpin to the deal and his every word, both spoken and unsaid, has been considered.
The Obama/Kerry-generated deal signed between the P5+1 and Iran faced universal Republican opposition and proved divisive even amongst Democrats. In analyzing its potential success, the logic was that as Senator Schumer voted, so too would vote a group of
on-the-fence Democrats. Their defection, catalyzed by Schumer’s opposition to the deal, was believed to ensure a critical mass that even President Obama could not overcome. The last month has produced constant speculation as to which side Schumer would favor.
Leading pundits had Schumer supporting Obama and the deal because Schumer was tabbed to be the next Senate Democratic Leader in January 2017, rising to the position with a newly elected president, whoever that may be. It was argued that with this leadership position, Schumer could not possibly jump ranks and lead an insurrection, opposing a Democratic president on this, his signature legacy-making policy.
Those looking for clues to the senator’s position considered one event as significant. Of the more than 10,000 people and politicians attending the anti-Iran rally in N.Y.’s Times Square in July, Schumer’s absence was as notable as the attendance of any of the speakers who addressed the crowd. Never one to miss such an event, Senator Schumer’s absence was construed as tacit support for the deal.
Others argued that Schumer, New York’s senior senator, could not/would not alienate his strong New York Jewish support base which has helped him remain a New York senator for many years. Schumer is a skilled and successful politician, and the nature of that beast is not to bite the hand that feeds you. This is the first rule of politicians who wish to retain office.
Though the fence is never a comfortable place to sit on, it nonetheless came as a bit of a surprise that Schumer came out relatively early (August 6) in opposition to the accords. It would be small to say that he did so now in response to the several notable Democratic defections that preceded his announcement. Shortly after Schumer announced his opposition, the senator was joined by New York Congressman Eliot Engel, the Democratic ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Schumer’s declaration at this early stage is courageous, has already had an impact, and hopefully will galvanize enough Democrats to achieve a two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto of the motion, making the deal impervious to the Obama-led onslaught that has already begun.
The president’s salvos have been furious and offensive. He stated last Wednesday that the only people standing opposed to his deal are, predictably, Republicans and those who place Israel’s interests above those of the United States. These accusations of a powerful Zionist/pro-Israel lobby which controls Congress and the canard of “dual loyalty” for elected Jews — such as Schumer — are classic anti-Semitic tropes that have followed Jews wherever we have lived in number. Jewish politicians have never been able to merely make a decision based on close consideration. Those who disagree with their decision invariably throw the “dual loyalty” card. What is grotesque about Obama’s accusation is that the topic is particularly ripe with the imminent release of Jonathan Pollard and the recycling of all the claims against him and issues of “dual loyalty” of America’s Jews.
And if his recently released op-ed in which he stated his position and how he came to it reflects his actual genesis of decision, it seems Senator Schumer thoroughly deliberated the issue. Schumer uncharacteristically avoided the media while considering the merits of the deal. He resisted appearing at the high-profile Times Square rally; he held private meetings with the key U.S. proponents of the deal: President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and chief negotiator Wendy Sherman; he avoided discussion of the topic in public forum. His deliberate approach to the issue led many (including me) to speculate that he was reading the political pulse, refraining from committing to either of the intractable sides — Democratic leadership and his N.Y. Jewish base — in order not to alienate the other. It seems we were wrong. Senator Schumer did due diligence and determined he would break from the president and the bulk of his Democratic cohort.
During his early years in politics, Senator Schumer lived across Flatbush Avenue from me. It would be hard to call us neighbors; he lived in a luxury building and I lived on the nearby dead-end — but he was, in fact, no further than a long stickball shot away. Though he politically was a good deal more liberal than my family, I remember my folks voting for him — perhaps for this moment. I am glad he crossed the aisle to stand against the president and crossed the street to stand with me on my side of Flatbush.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two wonderful children. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.