Diplomat Warns: U.S. Jews Aren't United Behind Israel on Iran Deal

Israel's consul general in Philadelphia sent classified telegram to Jerusalem with grave warning about sentiments in U.S. Jewish community toward Israel's campaign against nuclear accord.

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Jewish Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) hugs a Code Pink activist at an event of activists delivering more than 400,000 petition signatures to Capitol Hill in support of the Iran nuclear deal, July 29, 2015
Jewish Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) hugs a Code Pink activist at an event of activists delivering more than 400,000 petition signatures to Capitol Hill in support of the Iran nuclear deal, July 29, 2015Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel’s consul general in Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman, warned Jerusalem this week that the American Jewish community is divided over the nuclear agreement with Iran, and does not stand united behind Israel in the controversy.

Sideman sent a classified, sensitive telegram to Jerusalem on Tuesday with a grave warning about the sentiments in the Jewish community toward Israel’s campaign against the deal.

“At this crucial point of the Iranian issue – which for years has been at the core of Israeli foreign policy and was described countless times by the Israeli leadership as an existential threat – the Jewish community in the United States is not standing as a united front behind Israel and important parts of it are on the fence,” Sideman wrote in the telegram, a copy of which reached Haaretz.

Sideman’s telegram reflects what Israeli diplomats in North America and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem are reluctant to say out loud. Many diplomats feel that the American Jewish community is caught in a vise between Israel’s fight against the agreement with Iran and the internal American political conflict over it.

Sideman wrote that a CEO of one of the Jewish federations in the Philadelphia region told him that in his view, Israel’s status vis-à-vis the Obama administration is at a low point, which could adversely affect the Jewish community.

He cited the Jewish leader telling him, “In the next year and a half (until the end of President Barack Obama’s term) Israel’s and the Jewish communities’ maneuvering space regarding advancing Israel’s interests is extremely limited to non existent.” Thus, Sideman continued, “He isn’t interested in taking steps that would worsen the situation and harm the Jewish community’s status even more.”

The consul general said the CEO, who is inclined to support the deal with Iran, objects to exerting pressure on Democratic lawmakers in the federation’s jurisdiction, for fear it would harm the Jewish community. “The practical meaning is that certain lawmakers don’t hear from him and from other key figures in the Jewish community within their frame of reference,” he wrote.

Sideman, who has been serving for several years as consul general in Philadelphia, was formerly director of the consulate’s department in charge of relations with the U.S. Congress. His diplomatic reports in the past also reflected his evaluations courageously and candidly.

For example, before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress some two weeks before the Israeli election, Sideman warned of the growing criticism of the speech in the Jewish community and among Israel’s non-Jewish friends.

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said that the sentiments expressed in Sideman's telegram are brought up again and again by Jewish leaders across the U.S. According to the officials, the majority of the American Jewish community identifies with President Obama and with the Democratic Party, and therefore, even those who agree with Israel's position on the Iran nuclear deal, are very reluctant to oppose the president on the accord, and are asking themselves what can possibly be done at this stage.

Senior Israeli diplomats argue that the confrontation between Israel and the U.S. on the subject of the Iran nuclear deal has placed large sections of the American Jewish community in great distress, who fear a real internal rift. The fear among major Jewish organizations that they will be drawn into the domestic U.S. political fray over the nuclear deal is prominent in statements released by both the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Both organizations have refrained from strongly attacking the nuclear agreement and defining it as a disaster, instead leading the public to believe that they instead have misgivings over large parts of the agreement, and that they hope that Congress will review it in depth. The U.S. Reform movement, too, issued a convoluted statement that fell short of taking a decisive stance on the agreement.

Jerusalem believes that, in light of the complex and sensitive situation that Jewish American leaders and rabbis find themselves in, especially in Reform and Conservative communities – who comprise a majority of U.S. Jewry – the most that Israel can hope for is for them to "sit on the fence": not support the agreement publicly, nor oppose it. 

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