Back in the 1982, the Jewish community of Philadelphia held an Israel Bonds fundraiser at a suburban country club. After dinner, the master of ceremonies, a local doctor, rose and held up a small book.
“I was rummaging through my attic the other day and found this,” he said. “It’s the Philadelphia Jewish Community yearbook of 1916. Al Stein, (OR SOME SUCH NAME), where are you?”
A middle-aged fellow raised his hand.
“Al, 1916, your grandfather, Max Stein, contributed two dollars and eleven cents to the community.
Schumer knows perfectly well that the Iran deal poses a threat to the security of the State of Israel.
A titter ran through the prosperous audience.
“Harry Gottleib? Where are you?”
“Your grandfather Hymie donated ninety seven cents.”
“He got off easy,” said Gottleib, eliciting a laugh.
The doctor shook his head. “Just think back to how poor our parents and grandparents were. Immigrants with nothing. But someone came to them and said that other Jews needed help. So what did they do? They reached in their pockets, took out whatever they had and handed it over. That’s the kind of Jews they were.”
The audience burst into applause. As people began shouting the names of their ancestors, the doctor scanned the list and called out the results to applause or, in some cases, embarrassed silence.
Finally the doctor raised his hand. “I’m not going to tell anyone why Israel needs your help, and I’m not going to tell anyone how much to give today. But fifty years from now, someone will be standing on this stage with the 1982 Yearbook, and your grandchildren will be sitting where you are now. Make them proud.”
Chuck Schumer is the senior senator from New York and the putative leader of the Democratic Senatorial faction. He is also the most prominent Jew in Congress, a man who has built his career on being a defender of Israel. He likes to brag that his last name, in Hebrew, means "guardian" and that he is a guardian of the Jewish State.
The Obama administration is aware of how influential Schumer’s vote on the Iran deal will be with his Democratic colleagues. If it is okay with Chuck, they figure, it will put a kosher stamp on the deal for other Democratic lawmakers.
So far, Schumer hasn’t said yes or no. He’s “studying” the matter.
Pundits are well aware of Schumer’s dilemma, which they tend to see as a simple matter of political calculation. If Schumer votes against the deal (and Obama) it could cost him the leadership of the Senate Democrats. If he votes aye, he will pay a price in Jewish votes and donations.
Neither of these options is a matter of political life and death for the Senator from New York. Losing his leadership role in the Senate would be painful but not fatal. On the other hand, he can probably be reelected to the Senate without the support of pro-Israel contributors and voters.
No, Schumer’s dilemma is more profound. His vote is actually a wager on his legacy.
President Obama, too, describes the Iranian deal as a legacy issue. “My name is on it,” he says. But not really. If the deal works he can claim success. If it ends doesn’t, he will blame the disaster on his successors and go about his post-presidential business.
Senator Schumer does not have that luxury. He knows perfectly well that the deal poses a threat to the security of the State of Israel. He has been warned not only by Prime Minister Netanyahu, but by leaders of the Israel’s major opposition parties. If he votes for it anyway (or even votes ‘no’ while maintaining a discreet silence) and it ends in catastrophe, he will be blamed. And he will pay an enduring price.
Schumer has been to a lot Philadelphia-style fundraisers. He knows better the power of memory in the Jewish community. He also knows that his decision on the Iranian deal will be inscribed in the Yearbook of 2015 and passed down to future generations.
It is too early to know for sure how things will turn out. But I don’t think the odds favor an Iranian change Iran’s genocidal policies toward Israel. I doubt that Schumer does, either.
Fifty years from now, though, the results of the voting will be known. The Senator won’t be around then, but his children and grandchildren will be sitting in the audience when the Book of 2015 is read aloud. If he gets this wrong, they will be studiously pretending not to be related to the infamous Chuck Schumer.