NEW YORK – The mass protest rally against the nuclear agreement with Iran was set for 5 p.m. on Wednesday in Times Square. Now all I needed was to locate it.
The problem is that at that extremely crowded and busy time of the evening, Times Square is one big rally of its own. Thousands of tourists of all shapes and sizes – together with all the world’s eccentrics and weirdos – are crammed into the intersection.
The tourists are equipped with selfie sticks and people are pressed up against each other, photographing themselves, piled up on the narrow sidewalks and spilling out into roads bursting with yellow cabs and shining limousines. There’s no place on earth hotter or sweatier than New York’s Times Square at 5 p.m. on a July afternoon – exactly where someone decided to hold a protest rally.
I found it on 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. A small stage, a big digital screen with a US flag and the hash tag, #STOPIRANDEAL, arranged below a giant Batman poster (he’s back!) and three enormous digital street signs delivering the flashiest adverts in the world. Dozens of hefty New York policemen tried unsuccessfully to gain control of the pandemonium.
The crowds filled 7th Avenue from the corner of 42nd Street down to 39th. Trouble is, the street is narrow and they were packed along the sidewalk – a long human sausage of Jews. The police tried to surround them with metal railings, to distinguish them from the hoards of tourists trying in vain to force their way forward. How many were there? It’s impossible tell. It was a perfect mix. Thousands of protesters, most of them in yarmulkes, alongside thousands of inquisitive tourists in the midst of the New York mayhem at the perfect Archimedean point of gravity in the world’s most crowded tourist attraction. Ah, I forgot to mention the heat and humidity, as only Manhattan can be hot and humid in mid July.
In short: Hell.
I reckon that the tourists who were caught up in that rally on Wednesday afternoon will spend the next few weeks supporting Iran.
All this in order to influence Chuck Schumer. Really. Charles Schumer is a Jewish Democratic senator from New York, and considered the leader of the Jewish lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
His dream has always been to be the “leader of the Democratic majority” in the Senate.
Now Schumer is torn – it’s a as simple as that – between his sympathy for Israel and his recognition of the problems with the Iran deal, and the realization of his life’s dream. Anyone who speaks out against the Democratic president in an election year, almost certainly, loses the chance of becoming the leader of the party’s lawmakers. If Schumer gives in to the pressure currently being placed on him by AIPAC, much of the Jewish community and a significant number of American Jewish billionaires, it will make it hard for him to realize his dream.
So the rally focused on Schumer.
The assumption was that if Schumer voices public opposition to the agreement and votes against it in Congress, other Jewish Democratic lawmakers would follow suite. There are plenty of them and they are scared. So at the Wednesday rally, someone handed out dozens of pre-prepared signs with Schumer’s name on them.
According to one, Schumer controls the necessary votes to botch the agreement. Another sign mixed Hebrew with English and announced: “Schumer you are no Shomer.” It’s no fun being Chuck Schumer these days. A couple of days earlier, a veteran, well-connected Republican told me in Washington: “I’m betting on Schumer. He’s pretending to be hesitant and undecided. It’s a pose.
There’s a possibility he’ll vote against the agreement the first time, but this isn’t the important vote. After he’s voted against, the president will place a veto, when the crucial vote will be held in which we have to achieve a two-thirds majority in order to overcome the presidential veto. I can’t see Schumer voting against the president.
He’ll say that we’ve only got one president, that there’s a commitment during election year, to the president and to the party... blah, blah, blah.”
One of the well-known Republican leaders on Capitol Hill figured that the chances of stopping the agreement are no higher than 30 percent.
He was then asked where the votes would come from. Opponents of the agreement require 13 Democratic senators and more than 40 Democratic Congress members to override the president’s veto. “I don’t know,” he said, “I really have no idea.”
Those 30 percent are more a case of wishful thinking than realistic analysis.
It’s the final rearguard action and it seems to me that everyone, from Benjamin Netanyahu to Sheldon Adelson, AIPAC and the Republicans, knows this. Something dramatic has to happen in order for the agreement to fall. It hasn’t happened yet.
Back to the rally in Times Square.
A long list of speakers waited to have their say, from Alan Dershowitz, through former New York governor George Pataki and even the well-connected communications tycoon, Mort Zimmerman. Almost all of them spoke in historic, apocalyptic terms. Journalist Monica Crawley said: “Everyone who came here wants to rescue Western culture before it’s too late. Never again. Only 70 years after the Holocaust of the Jews of Europe, and we’ve already forgotten?” One in a while, some mentioned Secretary of State John Kerry by name. Loud, spontaneous boos emanated from thousands of throats in the square. Then that same Crawley turned to presidential candidate Hilary Clinton. The boos became even louder; and could be heard in Trump Tower, several hundred meters from there; the tower named for the clown who is currently trying to win the Republican presidential nomination.
In fact this week, Trump led the polls among the Republicans and was neck-in-neck with Jeb Bush. At the moment it’s still a joke; somewhat reminiscent of our own MK Oren Hazan in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Assuming, of course, that Hazan manages to make several billion dollars. It’s not as if he hasn’t tried.
The crowds that came to demonstrate in Times Square were totally Jewish, and mostly Orthodox. There were large numbers of yarmulkes; a lot of beards. The rally was convincing and at times even touching, but it expressed no specific Jewish consensus.
While most of the Jews in New York are secular, and the religious ones are mostly Reform or Conservative, they didn’t turn up.
This week saw the beginning of the 60 days in which the US Congress will study the agreement with Iran.
Then there’ll be a vote, in which the Republican majority will most likely reject the agreement. Within 10 days the president will issue a presidential veto and then, another week later, the final vote will be held in which a two-thirds majority will be required in order to overcome the president’s veto and to create unprecedented international diplomatic chaos. Now, if we count the days, we’ll have arrived at the exact date of the annual convention of the UN General Assembly in New York. Netanyahu is supposed to arrive here in late September, after Yom Kippur, straight into the final days before the definitive vote.
Together with him, the city will host President Barack Obama and perhaps even Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, alongside other world leaders.
The war over Capitol Hill will be at its height, and Bibi will be able, while in New York, to exert his full weight against the president. A duel to the death, between two men who were supposed to have been friends but have become mortal enemies.
If all this happens, it will be – according to observers in Washington – “the perfect storm.” All potential clichés pale in comparison with this situation.
Will Netanyahu take it to the edge? At the moments he is hesitant. So far Israel’s spokespeople in Washington have received no instructions.
The Democrats, including Israel’s staunchest supporters, are advising the prime minister to keep a low profile: to use AIPAC to goad the president, the Jews, the Republicans, but not to storm him himself, as he did in his May speech to Congress.
Yes, there is still room for the tense relations between the president and the prime minister to further deteriorate.
Many people believe that Israel shouldn’t go there. More than once this week in Washington, I heard threatening sounds from people close to the administration.
“If this agreement falls,” they said, “Serious damage will be caused to Israel.” When they are asked for details, they shroud themselves in mystery. Threats are more effective when they are obscure.
It is reasonable to assume that under such circumstances, humiliated, as he has never been before, Obama will pull out his doomsday arsenal and vent his fury against Israel in every way possible. And still, Netanyahu is undeterred. Going to the edge, with everything he has at his disposal. He believes that he’ll get his compensation package in any case, because the Americans are going to compensate the Saudis and will have to do the same for us (if they’re to maintain the IDF’s advantage to which they are committed).
Netanyahu is sure that, somehow, he’ll get through the remaining year with Obama. He believes that, after Obama, a Republican president will be elected (Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio). He’s entitled to his beliefs.
The problem is that he believed it last time, too.
Translated by Ora Cummings.