You don’t have to be Jewish to oppose the Iran deal. That seems to be the upshot of a bizarre chart published by The New York Times last Thursday to illustrate a story on lawmakers who are against the Iran deal. In one version, which ran in print and briefly online, a separate column noted which Democrats who opposed the deal were Jewish. I first read about it in a blog called smartertimes.com.
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This lit up the Internet, including one Twitter user, Yair Rosenberg, whose website describes him as a blogger in English for Israel’s national archive. He called the inclusion of the Jewish column “misleading,” since the majority of lawmakers against the deal aren’t Jewish. The Times eventually ran a six-paragraph editor’s note, saying it removed the Jewish column for lack of context.
In and of itself, this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Most editors (myself included) have made worse gaffes than this. Nor do I disagree with the Times’ editor’s note, which suggested that “the positions of Jewish members of Congress, and efforts to influence them one way or another,” are “a legitimate subject of reporting.” The Gray Lady noted that some members of Congress “alluded to their perspective as Jews” when they explained their decisions on the Iran appeasement.
What makes the Times’ chart noteworthy, though, is the glimpse it provides into a debate that is cracking with subtle – or not so subtle – talk about dual loyalty. Everyone writing about it online gets hit with often-anonymous comments questioning his or her motives, bona fides, religion and loyalties. But what a situation is shaping up as the Iran appeasement approaches the deadline for legislative action.
The latest poll, from the American Jewish Committee, found that American Jews are “virtually split” on the deal, with 50.6 percent approving it and 47.2 percent disapproving it. JTA calls that a “virtual tie” because of the margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent. My own sense of things is that the AJC poll way understates the negatives. But Haaretz U.S. editor Chemi Shalev, who’s nothing if not a veteran reporter of the Jewish beat, thinks my instinct is way off and that a majority of the Jewish community is with the president on the pact.
Either way, the latest findings by pollsters for the Pew Research Center make for interesting reading. It reported the other day that support for the Iran deal has been plummeting (it’s not focusing on Jews but the general population). The percentage of those polled who disapprove the deal has jumped to 49 percent in September, from 45 percent in July, while the ratio of those who approve the deal has plunged to 21 percent, from 33 percent. Support is sagging among Democrats as well as Republicans. Same with independents.
So what was the Times thinking when it ginned up a special column for Jewish members of Congress? It said in its editor’s note Friday that “religion or ethnicity of someone in the news can be noted if that fact is relevant and the relevance is clear to readers.” Fine with me. “The positions of Jewish members of Congress, and efforts to influence them one way or another, were a legitimate subject for reporting, since many Jewish Americans on both sides of the debate were particularly concerned about the deal’s impact on Israel’s security.” For sure.
The Times noted that “some members of Congress alluded to their perspective as Jews when they announced their positions on the deal.” But it grumbled that its own charge failed to include that context or make clear that “Jewish voters and lawmakers, like other Americans, were sharply divided on the issue.” It mentioned parenthetically that the revised version of the chart, when first published, misstated “the overall number of Democratic opponents of the deal who are Jewish. There are eight, not 15.” That is, about a third of the Democratic opponents are Jews.
What do I take from this? The American public is smart. Self-reliance may be the watchword for Israel in the age of Jabotinsky, but there’s no cause to discount the Americans. There is no reason for any American Jew to be shy about being against this pact. Dual loyalty has nothing to do with it. The Senate will have one more chance next week to express its disapproval of this deal. Will the Republican majority override the filibuster rule and force the measure to a vote? I don’t know. But if they do, it will be because that’s what the American public – without any chart of their religion – wants.
Seth Lipsky, the founding editor of The Forward and a former foreign editor of The Wall Street Journal, is editor of The New York Sun.