ADL national chairman Abraham Foxman
ADL national chairman Abraham Foxman. Photo by Dan Keinan
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ADL National Director Abe Foxman has confirmed that leaders of major Jewish organizations have agreed on a limited “time out” during which they will not push for stronger sanctions on Iran.

“That means that we are not lobbying for additional sanctions and we are not lobbying for less sanctions,” Foxman told Haaretz as well as other U.S. media outlets.

Foxman was responding to a report in Haaretz on Friday that cited understandings reached among the leaders of four major Jewish organizations who participated in a Monday meeting at the White House with a group of senior White House officials led by National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Immediately after the meeting, the newly established, ad hoc “quartet” of important Jewish organizations agreed to accede to the Administration’s request and to refrain from campaigning on behalf of stronger sanctions at this time.

The Haaretz revelation of the understandings reached among representatives of the Conference of Presidents, the American Jewish Committee, AIPAC and Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League, which were meant to be kept secret, sparked a flurry of denials from outside groups that had been kept out of the White House meeting - but also from others who were well aware of its outcome but were nonetheless miffed or embarrassed by its exposure.

Although the Haaretz report alluded only to a temporary “cease fire” in public campaigning and only in connection to additional sanctions, some officials were concerned that the publication might be misinterpreted in Congress as a signal that Jewish groups did not support stronger sanctions, or worse, that they would not oppose an easing of the sanctions already in place.

One Jewish official, however, said that some of the backlash against the Haaretz report were also the result of “internal power plays”, protests by angry donors and lay leaders who had not been consulted about the move, and by what he called “sour grapes” by leaders who had been invited but had not attended the meeting.

Foxman made clear, however, that the hiatus is only tactical in nature. “We still believe that sanctions have worked and that additional sanctions would also work,” Foxman said, “but the Administration feels otherwise. They believe that further sanctions at this time would harm prospects for a diplomatic solution.”

“We didn’t change our positions and they didn’t change their positions. But we’re not going to be out there before the end of the next two meetings of the P5+1 with Iran.”

Asked what he would do if a U.S. Congressman solicited his opinion, Foxman said he would respond that sanctions have been incredibly effective. But if asked about the advisability of further sanctions at this juncture, Foxman said he would tell the questioner: “That’s your decision to make”.

Although one knowledgeable source has told Haaretz that the “moratorium” would be in effect for 60 days, with an interim “review” meeting scheduled in a month’s time, Foxman said: “We don’t need 60 days. We should know where things stand within a month.”

While Foxman’s 30-day timetable is linked to the next two meetings of the P5+1 talks, the 60 day schedule emanates from the expected duration of procedural moves needed to advance a sanctions bill that is currently under review by the Senate Banking Committee. That bill, approved by the House of Representatives in late July by a 400-20 majority, could effectively bring Iran’s oil exports to a halt, sources said.

Responding to the report in Haaretz, meanwhile, J-Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben Ami expressed support for the organizations’ decision, saying in a statement: "There is an opportunity in the weeks ahead to test whether we can achieve the goal of ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon through diplomacy. This isn't the moment to endanger that diplomacy. There will be plenty of time to enhance sanctions if the talks fail."

“It would be great” Ben Ami added “for these groups to actually lobby to bolster the administration's policy toward Iran, which is supported by a large majority of the U.S. Jewish community.”