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Obama Seals Deal In Senate: 42 Democrats Voting Yes – OpEd

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Today, four Democratic senators announced their support for the Iran nuclear deal.  As of yesterday, there were only 38 Yes votes, which meant that Pres. Obama would’ve had to exercise a veto to defeat the GOP-Israel Lobby campaign against the agreement.  Early today, three senators (Ron Wyden, Gary Peters and Richard Blumenthal) announced almost simultaneously they would support the deal, which put it over the top.  That gave the Democrats 41 votes, enough to sustain a filibuster.  That would preclude Republicans from bringing it to a vote on the Senate floor.  Later in the day, Sen. Maria Cantwell (one of my senators, alas) announced she too was joining the band wagon and would vote Aye.  What took you so long, Sen. Cantwell?

Congratulations to the two major groups which lobbied hardest for the deal, the National Iranian American Council and J Street.  Also, a hearty mazel tov to 42 courageous senators who refused to toe the Lobby line.

The deal is done.  The agreement will be approved.  Sanctions will end.  Iran will significantly restrain its nuclear program for the next fifteen years.  This gives the world a chance to build normative relations with Iran.  It gives Iran a chance to prove that it should be welcomed among the nations.  I can only hope that neither side squanders this huge opportunity to transform four decades of killing and hate into a pragmatic, forward-looking relationship devoid of sloganeering and pandering (on both sides).

The neocon revanchists have not given up.  They know no shame.  Their policies may be utterly discredited.  But they spring back to life, like the proverbial Jack in the Box clown.  Dick Cheney told an American Enterprise Institute audience that the deal was “madness.”  I, on the other hand, think Cheney’s plan to remake the Middle East in his image was madness.  And we’re still paying for his megalomaniacal delusions to this day.

Bibi “Never Say Die” Netanyahu told a closed-door Likud meeting today that two-thirds of the American people opposed the deal.  Apparently, he confused the fact that 58 Republicans (which isn’t two-thirds of the Senate) were voting No, with polling of the American public. When respondents are asked only whether they support or oppose the deal, a plurality (but not majority) oppose it.  But when the contents of the agreement are explained, a majority (not a plurality) support it.

Bibi has not given up either.  The battle may be lost, but there’s always another to fight.  He will return with proposals in Congress to reintroduce sanctions.  There are rumors Ben Cardin is already drafting such legislation.  And yes, the Israeli prime minister does, through his Lobby proxies, propose, write and lobby for pro-Israel legislation.

Regarding new sanctions, all I can say is: bring it on.  If the U.S. wants to make itself the laughingstock of the world by going in the opposite direction of every other nation, be my guest.  Government officials and business executives from across the globe will be flocking to Tehran to negotiate deals on everything from food to oil.  Billions worth of deals promise to be signed in the coming months.  We Americans, on the other hand, will be left holding the (empty) bag.  We will have nothing to show for our efforts (of negotiating the Iran deal).

How long do you think that will last?  How long before some corporate CEO wakes up and says: wait a minute, we’ve been had.  Germans, Britons, French, Russians, Chinese have taken us to the cleaners.  We’ll be last in line and get the leftovers, if there are any.  Did I say “laughingstock?”

Did the Lobby Win or Lose?

There’s been a great deal of debate about the role of Aipac and the Israel Lobby in the campaign.  Some pundits believe the loss will harm the overall perception of the Lobby as an invincible power on matters of U.S. Mideast policy.  Others say it will not harm the Lobby.  I’m torn on the question.  But I think that 42 Democratic senators defying the Lobby on a question that was posed as a life and death matter by Israel’s leadership, is significant.  Netanyahu himself has turned support for Israel into a divisive issue, when previous Israeli governments have taken pains to pursue a bipartisan approach.  Aipac’s kamikaze act on behalf of the deal can only widen this split, with Democrats becoming more emboldened in their approach.

For example, Rep. Betty McCollum, publicly proposed that Israel be held accountable for the cold-blooded murder of two Palestinian teenagers during a Nakba Day protest near Ofer Prison this year:

“…These killings exemplify, Israel’s treatment of Palestinian youth in the Occupied West Bank is unacceptable and must not be tolerated by the U.S. or the international community,” McCollum wrote. “The murders of Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Daher only highlight a brutal system of occupation that devalues and dehumanizes Palestinian children. It is time for a strong and unequivocal statement of U.S. commitment to the human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.”

McCollum also called on the State Department to investigate whether the 38th Company of the Israeli Border Police — the unit that killed Nadeem and Mohammad — violated the “Leahy Law.” If such a violation occurred, the unit “should be ineligible to receive future U.S. military aid and training and all border policemen involved in this incident should be denied U.S. visas as stipulated by the law.”

McCollum is undoubtedly one of the most progressive members on Israel-Palestine.  In fact, back in 2006, her chief of staff was told by an Aipac operative that McCollum was a “supporter of terrorism” because she refused to vote for a bill the pro-Israel group was touting.  Nevertheless, neither she nor any other Congress member would ever in the past have demanded Israel be held accountable for such killings.  They would’ve been viewed as internal Israeli matters not appropriate for outside intervention.

This is a courageous thing to do for anyone in her shoes.  Undoubtedly, she will pay the price.  She will face a primary challenger who is well-funded with Lobby cash.  Or some such way of voicing its displeasure will be felt.

The point is that there are subtle tectonic shifts happening.  The Lobby remains powerful, but no longer invincible.  Though I profoundly disagree with J Street on much of its political and lobbying agenda, it too has put a few dents in Aipac’s fenders.  This is a slow process.  But it leads inexorably to the same place Israel itself appears headed: political irrelevance and decrepitude.

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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