World

Schumer’s Warmongering: A Personal Reflection on the NY Senator's Opposition to Obama's Nuclear Deal

The morality of avoiding another needless and horrible war is more important than politics.

My father, Victor Goldberg, was in the 195th Field Artillery Battalion during World War II, landing on Utah Beach nine days after D-Day. Like other members of his unit he was given battle stars for being in five bloody battles against the Nazis in Normandy. Later he was among the American troops that liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

For the last several years before he passed away, my dad and I would watch the political TV shows every Sunday and talk about the issues of the week. He would have been deeply saddened by the announcement this past week of opposition to the Iran deal by Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Nita Lowey, two ostensibly liberal Jewish Democrats he had supported and voted for. He was an FDR liberal. He loved Israel and he had a bias in favor of Jewish politicians because he felt a kinship with them. At the same time, he knew the horrors of war. He believed in war only as a last resort and he would have loved President Obama’s speech at American University laying out the rationale for the deal.

Schumer and other renegade Democrats opposing their president have talking points filled with nuclear jargon. But no matter how they spin it, they are claiming that Democratic foreign policy leaders they support on every other subject are wrong—and that Dick Cheney and the Republican presidential candidates are right.

The most likely explanation for Schumer’s behavior is that he has been influenced by the implacable opposition to the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Schumer, Lowey, Brad Sherman and other Jewish Democrats who oppose President Obama seem oblivious to the fact that Likud propagandists have tried to create a radically different definition of the phrase “pro-Israel” from what it meant in the first half-century after the war against the Nazis.

For decades, the defining “pro-Israel” issues at the congressional level were foreign aid and military support to help defend Israel. For many Americans, especially Jews like my dad, there was a powerful post-Holocaust obligation to the Jewish people. Israel also supported American goals in the Cold War and in the oil economy.

But after Netanyahu became prime minister, he tried to transform the definition of pro-Israel to include a much larger influence of the overall foreign policy of the United States, a radical departure from previous Israeli regimes. This became vividly clear during the debate leading up to the Iraq War. American acolytes of Netanyahu and his party were stridently supportive of President Bush in pursuit of that disastrous mistake.

In 1996, five years before 9/11, a memo was written to newly elected Prime Minister Netanyahu by neo-con Richard Perle (who along with co-author Douglas Feith would later serve in the Bush administration at the time of the Iraq War). Perle advocated a new hawkish strategy for Israel called “A Clean Break.” He wrote, "This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” In private meetings with American Jews, Netanyahu often lamented the fact that the first Gulf War had not “taken out” Saddam.

My dad’s hero, Senator Ted Kennedy and 22 other Democratic senators and 133 Democratic House members — a majority of Democrats at that time — believed correctly that Dick Cheney and his minions manipulated intelligence, and they voted against the war. History has proved them right.

To this day, the American people do not know why the U.S. went to war against Iraq. All we know is that the talking points the pubic was fed by the Bush administration and its neo-con chorus were false. Similarly we have no idea why Netanyahu and his supporters are against the deal with Iran that every other ally of the United States supports. 

In recent years, in another radical departure from the past, the Netanyahu government has taken partisan sides in American politics, identifying in an increasingly visible way with Republicans, culminating in the unprecedented speech Netanyahu made to a Republican-controlled Congress to criticize a Democratic president’s foreign policy.

President Obama campaigned explicitly on changing the mindset that led to the Iraq War and on negotiating, if possible, with Iran. He is not the one who has played bait and switch.

My dad would be relieved to know that the Schumer/Likud definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel” is not shared by most American Jews. Many prominent Jewish Democrats support the deal, including senators Barbara Boxer, Bernie Sanders and Dick Durbin. A recent poll by the Jewish Journal asked whether Congress should “vote to approve or oppose the deal.” Jews favor approval over disapproval by a margin of 53%-35%.   

Because the Iraq War was so awful and the arguments for it so preposterous, it is arguable that President Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 primarily because he opposed the Iraq War. Modern-day Democrats who think actual Democratic voters have somehow warmed up to the views of neo-cons are deluding themselves. Moreover, it is not a stretch to imagine that upwards of 90% of non-Jews who vote Democratic support the president. Schumer et al. must be assuming that their vote on the Iran deal will be quickly forgotten. It won't.

Recently, David Azoulay, a religious services minister in Netanyahu’s coalition government, claimed on Israeli radio that Reform Jews aren’t “real Jews." Netanyahu knew this was not good politics at this time, so he publicly disagreed with Azoulay, but tellingly kept him in his government. 

There is an American version of Azoulay’s bigotry coming from some Jewish organizations suggesting that people like my dad and the rest of our family are not “real Jews” if we don’t support Netanyahu and oppose the president we twice voted for. Greg Rosenbaum, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which supports the deal, writes, “I and members of this organization have personally found ourselves being called 'Nazis' and 'kapos,' told that we are enemies of the Jewish people and leading Israel to another Holocaust.” 

Those few Democrats who play along with the Likud either for ideological reasons or to get the benefit of neo-con billionaires are in for a rude awakening. Despite a vicious, well-funded PR campaign funded by Netanyahu supporters smearing and lying about President Obama during his first term, he still received 69% of the Jewish vote for re-election. He is the only Democrat since FDR to win a majority of the overall popular vote twice. 

It not realistic to expect politicians you support to agree with you on all issues. But the choice between this deal and a war with Iran is of such extraordinary consequence that it will remain indelible in the minds of the base of the Democratic Party. I hope that progressives mount primary challenges to every single Democrat who votes to oppose the president on this deal. 

But the morality of avoiding another needless and horrible war is more important than politics. In the name of my father, I have a plea to make to those Democrats who have veered into the morass of intellectual and moral contradictions epitomized by former Senator Joe Lieberman. Search your souls and change your mind. Even if you vote against the bill, do not vote to overturn President Obama's veto. That, as my dad would say, would be a shande.

Danny Goldberg is the author of In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea (Akashic Books) and is the president of Gold Village Entertainment, whose clients include Steve Earle, Against Me!, and Peaches.

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