1. Adam Schiff targeted by Trump for “treason”
Life in Trump-era America has accustomed Adam Schiff to almost every type of abuse. The Jewish California lawmaker, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, was already among Trump’s few lucky rivals to win their own personal nicknames (“Little Adam Schiff,” sometimes spelled “Liddle’ Adam Schiff” and once, aiming even lower, Trump referred to him on Twitter as “little Adam Schitt.”
And it is likely, therefore, that Schiff could expect more to come after being chosen by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lead the impeachment inquiry against Trump. On Monday, the first day of the Jewish new year, Trump tweeted yet another attack on Schiff, this time ending with an ominous question: “Arrest for Treason?”
Accusations of treason, disloyalty and espionage are nothing new for the president. In the aftermath of the Ukraine call affair and the impeachment process triggered by it, Trump hurled these accusations at the whistleblower who first reported the issue, and at those who shared the information with the whistleblower.
But accusing Schiff, an elected official who heads the House committee that oversees America’s intelligence community’s most sensitive operations, has taken these accusations to a new level.
First, Schiff, an eight-term congressman and former prosecutor, has built his political career at the intersection of law and national security. If anyone should know where lines of loyalty to one’s nation are crossed, it’s Schiff. Not to mention the fact that up until 2016, Schiff was actually known as a moderate who works across the aisle and values bipartisan cooperation. Things changed in the past two years as Schiff got into endless skirmishes with Representative Devin Nunes, who chaired the committee at the time and is now the ranking Republican.
But there’s even more to the story.
It’s been just over a month since Trump accused all Jewish Democrats (and all American Jews who support the Democrats) of being “disloyal.” Despite the outcry from almost all corners of the American Jewish community, Trump refused to back down, later making things worse by suggesting those Jewish Democrats were not loyal to the state of Israel.
Trump, as many have noted throughout these past three years, is not a person to acknowledge a mistake or apologize, so his decision to dig in on the “disloyalty” claim may have been anticipated.
But what is clear is that after the uproar the comments had stirred, Trump must have been well aware of the toxic nature questions about loyalty carry in the Jewish community. And still, on Rosh Hashanah, he chose to accuse a Jewish lawmaker of treason.
2. Other Jewish lawmakers on Trump’s attack list
Trump, in what seems like an endless stream of tweets that have accompanied last week’s rollout of the impeachment inquiry, has gone after several other lawmakers, mostly Jewish and non-white. Referring to them as “Do nothing Democrat savages,” Trump also bundled in Representative Jerry Nadler, who (like Schiff) is Jewish and who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
In addition, Republicans have taken aim at two other first-term Jewish congresswomen, following their support for launching an impeachment process.
In Michigan, Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA officer who served under Democratic and Republican presidents, was singled out as being politically vulnerable after declaring her support for impeaching Trump. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) called on supporters to help unseat Slotkin, who flipped her red district in 2018, a district that Trump won easily two years earlier.
In Virginia, Representative Elaine Luria, a former Naval officer, is facing a similar challenge after getting off the fence to help provide Democrats with the majority they need in favor of impeachment. The NRCC has already bought ads aimed at residents in Luria’s district, the military-heavy Virginia Beach area. The ads depict Luria as too moderate for her constituency and claim that she “sided with the socialists in Washington.”
3. A Trump-y Rosh Hashanah call
As in previous years, Trump took time on the eve of Rosh Hashanah for a conference call with rabbis and Jewish communal leaders. In the past, only Orthodox rabbis and members of groups that expressed support for Trump’s policies were invited to participate, this year the lines were open to members of all denominations and groups, regardless of their criticism of Trump.
In roughly 12 minutes, Trump offered a little bit of everything: Shana Tova blessings in Hebrew, praise for Jews’ contribution to America (“you embody the American dream”) and tributes to the creation of the State of Israel. Trump mentioned his key policy moves on Israel: relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli rule of the Golan Heights and withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump, accused in the past of not speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism from the right, took note and pledged “our undying and total resolve to excise the vile poison of anti-Semitism from our world.” After his prepared remarks, Trump gave the phone over to Elan Carr, the administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and then opened the conference call to questions, although only two were allowed. The first came from Norm Coleman, chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who chose to focus on Iran. Here, free from his prepared remarks, Trump provided the Jewish listeners with a peek into his thinking about Iran. And it’s probably not what they had expected. The tough-talking president was all about avoiding conflict and reaching agreements with the regime in Tehran. “I don’t want military conflict…I’ve shown great restraint and hope that Iran likewise chooses peace,” Trump said. He concluded his Iran response by stating: “It will work out. I can’t tell you exactly how or why, but it will work out because it always does. I have the tendency to make things work out, one way or another. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it happens.”
4. Should Iran hawks be concerned?
On one hand, a vague promise that “it will work out” and a repeated wish to avoid military conflict aren’t exactly the most reassuring things many in the Jewish community known as Iran hawks were hoping to hear. They’d rather hear a pledge to continue the maximum pressure campaign against Tehran while delivering a credible military threat.
On the other hand, recent events have made clear that Iran hawks have little to worry about. Trump may have extended his hand to negotiate with the Iranian regime, but at least for now, it remained hanging. Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani stated that negotiations with the U.S. are off the table until all sanctions are removed. This doesn’t necessarily mean the two countries are on a military collision course, but it does remove the chance of early negotiations, and of Trump making concessions any time soon.
5. Israel election watch
Things are moving quickly, but are going nowhere. The basics of the equation haven’t changed: Netanyahu and Gantz are still locked in a tie, with no solution in sight.