(photo credit: ASTRID RIECKEN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
Junior New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s August 6 announcement supporting President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal should not go unpunished, both in view of the demographics of the state she represents and the unprecedented presidential incitement against Jews and the State of Israel.
For Israel, the stakes in the outcome of this deal could not be higher. While Secretary of State John Kerry dismissively argues that although Iran has a “fundamental ideological confrontation” with Israel, it has not yet taken active steps toward Israel’s annihilation. But Jews with sensitive antennas understand better.
For President Obama, this agreement marks an opportunity to strategically realign away from Israel and toward Iran. The narrative during his tenure has been dumbed down from nuclear weapons prevention, to containment, to threshold nuclear state.
While the danger Iranian nukes pose to the world is profound, special disaster awaits Israel. John Podhoretz put it starkly in Commentary ( May, 2015): “[S]hould a pact with Iran be signed, Barack Obama will be complicit in the act of casting a nuclear shadow over the future of the people, whose continued existence on earth could not survive a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv – which would constitute a second Holocaust within living memory of the first.”
With the dissonance between this nuclear deal and the well-being of Israel so glaring, would it have been asking too much for a senator from the state with the nation’s largest Jewish population to have stood up to the president? New York’s Jewish population numbers nine percent of the total, and Jews comprise some one-fourth of the total vote. True, not all Jews and likewise not all New Yorkers oppose this deal. But polls indicate that more Americans, and certainly more Jews, recognize that signing this deal would make the world a far more dangerous place, and Israel far more existentially threatened.
Ironically, Senator Gillibrand’s endorsement, coming a day before Senator Charles Schumer’s disavowal of the deal, caught the pundits off guard. Predictions were that Senator Schumer’s courageous opposition would bring in tow this Democratic Party junior senator whose bona fides regarding Israel are more comparable to a legislator from a state such as perhaps Montana or Alabama.
Moreover, Senator Gillibrand’s boiler-plate acquiescence to the deal reads like a paraphrase of Team Obama’s talking points.
Conceding that the agreement is “imperfect,” she claims that “if we reject this deal, we do not have a viable alternative for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Should the Islamic Republic be in non-compliance, Senator Gillibrand assures us of the possibility of “snap back” sanctions and says that the “military option will be on the table.”
By contrast, Senator Schumer, less willing to gamble on the possibility of millions of deaths stemming from this chimerical vision, bases his rejection on the argument that Iran “will not change and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power.”
Even though Senator Gillibrand professes great love for the Jewish state, her party’s White House standard bearer sounds more and more like a Norwegian anti-Israel activist. Never has a president challenged and insulted Jews to the extent of this incumbent.
Jew-baiting and insinuations of dual Jewish loyalties are basic to his agenda of rounding up support for this Iranian deal.
President Obama talks about foreign influence, the shady role of billionaire donors, lobbyists, Israel as an aberration in opposing this high-minded pact. No doubt the president knows that such incitement spurs anti-Semitism.
Since the agreement so strongly tries to appease Iran, most likely more flaws such as secret deals and loopholes, as well as more Iranian condescension to a desperate Washington administration, will emerge between now and the September congressional vote. Jews will be increasingly singled out. In these confrontations, the absence of a senator committed to her Jewish constituents will stand out.
As of this writing, five of the 18-member New York State House of Representatives Democratic delegation have deserted the president on this deal. Hopefully, more of this number could be convinced to join the ranks of their colleagues in opposition. Would it be in order to call Senator Gillibrand to task in the media, perhaps by comparing her glibly written opinion in support of the deal with Senator Schumer’s responsible reasoning? She needs to recognize her responsibilities to her constituents in the face of possible future confrontations between President Obama and Israel.
Calling yourself a friend of Israel at a time of White House incitement does not make you a friend.
The author is a professor of political science at New York’s CUNY, author most recently of A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry (Syracuse University Press, 2013).