And now The New York Times is playing its role in the Obama administration’s Iran deal smear campaign. On Sunday, the paper of record charged that Republican congressmen and senators opposed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are more loyal to the Prime Minister of Israel than the president of the United States: a Times editorial described the “vicious battle” as “the unseemly spectacle of lawmakers siding with a foreign leader against their own commander in chief.”
Of course, it’s not like Ted Cruz or Lindsey Graham care much about what the Times has to say. No, the old Grey Lady is echoing the White House, which is targeting three key Democrats from northeastern states where the Times is read as scripture, and who may be tempted to vote against the JCPOA. From this perspective, the three biggest threats to Obama’s foreign policy legacy are Maryland’s Ben Cardin, who co-authored the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 with Republican Senator Bob Corker, and two of the bill’s co-sponsors, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and New York’s Chuck Schumer. To keep these three Democrats in line, the White House, with the Times as an echoing chorus, is warning them that if they go against the JCPOA, they’ll be tarred as dual loyalists, just like the aforementioned Republicans—a threat that’s especially poignant for the three Democrats since they’re Jewish.
Even before the deal was signed in Vienna last month, the White House has singled out its opponents, like Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), as beholden to “donors and others.” And now, post JCPOA, the Obama administration’s rhetoric has become even more florid and explicit, a “Jew-baiting” of the sort that one might associate with Father Coughlin back in the 1930s, or, for that matter, the current government of Iran: John Kerry said Israel will be to blame if the deal fails on Capitol Hill while the president explained to Jon Stewart that only “money” and “lobbyists” could obscure the excellence of the Iran nuke deal.
It’s an especially perverse campaign. Most Jews actually support the Iran deal—unlike most other Americans, who oppose it 2 to 1. And the Jewish lawmakers who have already come out in support of the agreement are still seen primarily as Jews—good Jews, that is, since they like the deal. Last week, for instance, Michigan congressman Sander Levin came out in support of the Iran agreement. Kerry read Levin’s statement backing the deal during the secretary’s testimony on Capitol Hill, even though representatives explained that they’d already heard Levin’s statement. Kerry, of course meant to drive home the fact that the most senior Jewish member of the House was for the JCPOA.
That’s the choice that the White House is giving its putative Democratic allies on the Hill—either be a good Jew, like Levin, or you’re acting disloyal to party as well as country. Blumenthal, Cardin, and Schumer, the targets of the administration’s “dual loyalty” campaign, are on notice. If the three Jewish Senators don’t fall in line and support the deal, they can expect a primary challenger who will echo the White House’s talking points about selling out America—an argument now endorsed by America’s leading newspaper.
Schumer may be less likely than Cardin and Blumenthal to face a primary challenger, but he’s in line to be the Democratic leader in the Senate. The White House can undermine Schumer by charging that he’s not voting in terms of U.S. national interests, but rather puts Jewish interests—and interests of the Jewish state—above those of the country he’s supposed to serve. Or, as the Times puts it, siding with a foreign leader against his own Commander-in-Chief.
The White House understands that for its Jew-baiting dog-whistle to work, it would have to inspire a chorus where the messaging was even less subtle. And now it has, in the paper of record.
Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020).