The Other Senator from New York

What happened to her campaign pledges to strengthen sanctions against Iran?

David Friedman

OpEds David Friedman
David Friedman
Credit: INN:DF

There is no such thing as a state-wide New York politician who does not claim to support Israel. Indeed, from the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 until today, United States senators from New York – great leaders from both parties like Jacob Javits, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Alphonse D’Amato -- have led the way in advancing critical pro-Israel legislation and in coming to Israel’s aid in times of need.

Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Democratic senator from New York, would appear on paper to be a follower of this tradition. Her website proudly proclaims her loyalty to the State of Israel, touting her efforts to “strengthern sanctions against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.” This past week, however, things abruptly changed.  Just hours before Senator Schumer broke ranks with his party and voiced his opposition to the Iran deal, Senator Gillibrand came out in support.

Several days later, Gillibrand published a short explanation entitled “Why I’m Supporting an Imperfect Iran Deal.” Most of it could have been written by Obama or Kerry or Moniz or any of their apologists (and probably was). But while the substance was familiar, certain comments were particularly noteworthy for their sheer stupidity.

...while the substance was familiar, certain comments were particularly noteworthy for their sheer stupidity.
For example, Gillibrand writes that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon “would be a game changing event that cannot and will not be allowed.” But she fails to mention that the deal as negotiated will in fact allow Iran nuclear weapons!  She goes on to say that “Iran will be disruptive in the Middle East and fund terrorist activities.” She then fails to mention that under the Iran deal, it will be the United States that bankrolls Iran’s adventures in terrorism.

What’s happening here? While Gillibrand’s proclamation of self-justification plainly is stupid, she most certainly is not. She’s a Dartmouth and UCLA Law grad, a former clerk for a Second Circuit Judge, and a practicing attorney at a very prestigious law firm. Why would a highly intelligent person write such drivel? 

There are some important lessons to be learned here. First of all, the assumption that people in general and politicians in particular will usually do the right thing is one destined for disappointment.  Gillibrand undoubtedly saw party loyalty and personal advancement on the line here, and those factors carried the day. Thus her arguments, while unpersuasive, were the best she had to accomplish her pre-determined goal and she went with them.

Second, never underestimate the capacity of the human mind to rationalize bad behavior. Senator Gillibrand undoubtedly has convinced herself that she has made the right choice, notwithstanding the fallacious reasoning that underlies it. This capacity for self-rationalization has proven time and time again to be a precursor to evil.

The third lesson is the most important. As King David – a man who knew a thing or two about the complexities of leadership – aptly put it, “do not trust in princes.” The pro-Israel community, while right to seek political support wherever it is offered, needs, in the first instance, to rely upon itself -- to be united, committed, and unqualifiedly supportive of the State of Israel that we love and cherish.

Contrary to the anti-Semitic canards emanating these days from Washington, we do not control the Congress and we do not control the press. Indeed, despite intensive efforts, we could not even persuade the junior senator from New York – with the largest Jewish poulation in the Union – to honor her campaign pledge and vote against Iranian nukes!

We can and should control ourselves and do our best to act with one voice in support of our values. In the final analysis, that unity is far more important than the selfish whims of the political class.