The most widely known cliché about New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s alleged addiction to publicity was originally formulated 20 years ago by the acerbic former Senator Bob Dole, and then revived by his GOP colleague, John McCain. “The most dangerous place in Washington D.C.,” the joke goes, “is between Chuck Schumer and a television camera.”
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That’s why Schumer’s absence from a minor public event in Brooklyn on Friday was deemed worthy of headlines in the New York press this weekend, and that’s why it was seen as an indication of the duress that the veteran Democratic lawmaker might be feeling in the wake of his announcement Thursday night that he would vote against the Iran nuclear deal in Congress. That statement immediately placed Schumer in the eye of a public storm, earning him censure and rage from the White House and many Democratic activists. Schumer’s announcement also seemed to be releasing hitherto dormant demons of anti-Semitism and claims of “dual loyalty” on social media, on the one hand, and by a harsh, over-the-top editorial in Tablet magazine that accused the administration of “sickening anti-Jewish incitement”, on the other. Obama - I kid you not – was using “dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally” according to the Jewish magazine.
The jury is still out on whether Schumer’s decision to stand out as the first U.S. Senator to oppose the administration is a major blow or only a slight setback to White House efforts to block a Congressional veto of the Iran nuclear deal.
Opponents of the deal hope that Schumer’s statement will pave the way for enough Democratic defectors to join the 54 Republican senators and form the majority of 60 needed to disapprove the deal in the first stage - and perhaps even the 67 necessary to override the veto that will surely come in the second. But White House officials and many Democrats say that Schumer is a wise and experienced politician who knows how to tally votes so that he won’t be held responsible for sabotaging the deal or for inflicting a humiliating political defeat on his party’s president.
Nonetheless, Schumer’s statement was met by tough reactions. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest expressed disappointment and seemed to be urging Democratic senators to consider "the voting record of those who would like to lead the caucus" when choosing their next Senate leader. Liberal activist group MoveOn blasted Schumer’s “outrageous and unacceptable” decision to “side with Republican ideologues and neoconservative ideologues.” Announcing a grass roots protest of withholding political donations from Democratic senatorial candidates, MoveOn said: “We don’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate.” That statement could be read as legitimate repudiation of a Democrat lawmaker who deserted his party in 2006 and then endorsed John McCain for president in 2008 – or as an ominous allusion to the Jewish religion and identity that Schumer and Lieberman share.
No such doubt accompanied the sudden outburst of anti-Semitic insinuations and outright accusations on social media that fumed at “Israel-Firster” Schumer’s “dual loyalty.” But the first stirrings of the nightmare scenario that critics of the high-profile Netanyahu-led onslaught against the Iran deal had warned against were then transported from the fringes to center stage. They were elevated from a slight concern to a clear and present danger by an unusually harsh editorial in Tablet magazine that accused “the White House and its representatives” of “using anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool.”
The incendiary editorial takes a New York Times editorial that blasted, “The unseemly spectacle of lawmakers siding with a foreign leader,” an Obama call on Democratic senators to “stand up to donors” and the president’s statement in his address at American University on Wednesday that, “It would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally,” and weaves them together to form “blatant and retrograde forms of racial bigotry.” It takes Obama and the White House to task for counterattacking critics by asserting that “murmuring about ‘money’ and ‘lobbying’ and ‘foreign interests’ who seek to drag America into war is a direct attempt to play the dual-loyalty card.” The editors of the widely respected magazine say the administration is “crossing a line” and making them “sick to their stomachs” in the process.
Tablet’s malevolent interpretation of statements made by the president, administration officials and the New York Times are so wantonly over the top that one cannot but suspect ulterior motives. The site, which combines liberal articles on culture and religious pluralism together with usually hard-line takes on issues related to Israel, seems to be amplifying the message made in several recently articles by its writer and senior editor Lee Smith, who is also affiliated with the arch-conservative Weekly Standard. Smith, a harsh critic of the Obama administration and a fierce opponent of the Iran deal wrote only last week of the administration’s “smear campaign” against Jewish senators who might vote for the deal.
Before Schumer had announced and Tablet’s editors were appalled, Smith had already uncovered the White House’s “Jew-baiting dog whistle.”
The editorial gives opponents of the Iran deal a powerful weapon with which to silence any criticism of Netanyahu or AIPAC or Jewish Democrats who oppose the president. It provides a convenient way for the GOP and other right-wingers to have their cake and eat it too: Netanyahu is allowed to address 10,000 American Jewish leaders and activists from Jerusalem, but mentioning their faith is forbidden; he is allowed to be the sole foreign leader to openly campaign against the deal, but singling him out is verboten; AIPAC can raise emergency funds, cancel all vacations and send its lobbyists to canvass on Capitol Hill, but say the words “lobby” or “money” and you are quickly branded a bigot; Schumer can famously boast that he sees himself as a Shomer Israel but you won’t dare say that when he seems to live up to his promise.
It’s hard to tell which is more offensive – or scary: the anti-Jewish comments creeping up on the sidelines of political discourse or the brazen attempt to exponentially multiply signs of anti-Semitism to gain political advantage. Obama and administration officials used language that even some of their supporters might find disturbing, but these have now been turned into unequivocal manifestations of a rabid hatred of Jews. One thing is for sure: the GOP couldn’t be happier.
Administration officials and Democratic activists fiercely deflected any charges of anti-Semitism over the weekend, but said they will be attentive to legitimate Jewish sensitivities. That could prove to be a mission impossible, however, given the war that Netanyahu has declared on Obama and the efforts of Obama-haters to portray the president as inherently anti-Jewish, just as they claimed from the outset.