Obama Faces New Opposition from Congress, Jewish Voters, Jewish Democrats, and the American People over Iran Deal
Domestic critics of the Iranian nuclear “framework” are gaining ground. One problem is that John Kerry and the administration’s version of what is in the framework differs from Iran’s understanding. As Michael Gordon wrote in a front page story in the New York Times, “there are two versions,” or as he put it, “noteworthy differences” between the U.S. and the Iranian version of what transpired. Indeed, Iran’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, denies that any agreement has been reached.
As a result of these discrepancies, Obama is going to have an even harder time selling it to Congress than he had before the announcement of the framework. This poses a problem for both the Democratic Party and his administration. The president assumed that he would be able to bypass Congress altogether or render them ineffectual in obtaining a final nuclear deal with Iran. He did not seem to take into account that Republicans won a majority of both houses in 2014. Nor did he grasp the fact that many in Congress, both Democrat and Republican, resented being bypassed and ignored for seven years and having their constitutional responsibilities usurped. Congressional pushback came in the form of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015, put forth with bipartisan support by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn). Congressionally mandated sanctions helped bring Iran to the table, Corker argues, and so Congress must have a say in removing them as well as a role in overseeing Iranian compliance with any agreement.
Obama also miscalculated his handling of Netanyahu and Israel and the ramifications of his hostility toward Jewish voters. After Netanyahu appeared before Congress, Obama and others in his administration decided to wage a virtual war against Israel. An anonymous top administration official called Israel’s prime minister a “chicken...t” and a “coward,” and Obama himself ignored Netanyahu’s just concerns, and accused all those opposed to his policies of desiring a Middle East war. The attacks continued even after Netanyahu won the election and in spite of the administration’s efforts to defeat him. Obama appears to have been living under the illusion that J Street, a group he has been touting, is representative of American Jewry. In fact, J Street, which purports to be a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, has from its start functioned as a surrogate for the White House in the Jewish community. It opposed and lobbied against any sanctions on Iran when they were first proposed, and just this week, signed a joint statement on behalf of the announced framework with both the Arab American Institute and the National Iranian American Council, calling it a “historic agreement.”
Since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jewish Americans have been counted on to be loyal Democrats, but that might be beginning to change. As a result of the administration’s attacks on Israel’s prime minister, the very real threat that Iran poses towards Israel, and the backdrop of growing anti-Semitism in Europe, there seems to be a backlash. Suddenly fearing a revolt of Jewish Democrats, Obama’s national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, was dispatched to meet with some Jewish members of Congress. He was told, Politico reported, that Obama and his aides had to stop blaming Netanyahu for holding up the peace process, while saying nothing about the role Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had played in its failure. The administration’s attacks on Netanyahu were perceived as being vindictive and gratuitous. One of the congressmen said, “You want us to go out and say the administration’s got Israel’s back. How are you going to get us to say that when our constituents believe that the administration is stabbing Israel in the back?”
According to Peter Nicholas, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Obama’s policies and hostility towards Israel “are creating a rift in the durable alliance between Jews and the Democratic Party in the run-up to the 2016 elections.” When Jewish Democratic House members met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, they told him that Obama had to do something to increase his popularity among Jewish voters. They urged that he tell his boss to “soften his tone” towards Netanyahu. Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democratic member of Congress, told McDonough that she was “extremely disturbed” by “overheated” rhetoric coming from the White House. The election returns showed that in the 2006 midterm elections, 87% of Jewish voters supported House Democratic candidates; while in 2014, the figure dropped to 66%. A shift like this, the story continues, could make a difference in parts of Florida, as well as the Philadelphia and Chicago suburbs, and have an impact on Senate races as well. A Democratic fundraiser, Leonard Barrack, told Rhodes that “many fellow Democrats of the Jewish faith were appalled” that members of Congress didn’t show Netanyahu “the respect and courtesy of being in the audience” when he spoke to both houses of Congress.
It is for that reason that President Obama has shifted his tone measurably in the past few days, trying to make it appear that he really cares about Israel and believes in doing everything he can to protect it and provide the umbrella of U.S. power for that purpose. This was revealed clearly in Obama’s April 5 interview with Thomas Friedman, appearing in the New York Times.