U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was booed loudly and consistently on Sunday by an irate audience at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York that rejected his affirmation of U.S. President Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security and his pledge to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“No administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one,” Lew said, but the audience was having none of it. “We are not operating on an assumption that Iran will act in good faith,” Lew said, but his listeners responded with catcalls and cries of “nonsense.”
It was one of the surliest receptions ever accorded to such a high-ranking administration official by a Jewish audience in the United States. Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde tried to calm the audience and apologized to Lew. Israeli Minister Yuval Steinitz, who spoke after Lew, said that he was a “true friend of Israel” and that without his help, Israel would never have been accepted to the OECD.
The audiences reaction reflected the anger and distrust towards the Obama administration that is steadily growing among right wing American Jews as the deadline for a deal with Iran approaches. It is also a mark of the increasingly harsh tone of discourteous tone of political debate in an increasingly polarized America, in general, and inside the Jewish community, in particular.
Lew tried to deflect his audience’s displeasure by saying that he and the administration share the audience’s concern for Israel’s security. “I can hear it in this room,” he said. He was also intermittently applauded when he said, “We must never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.” Lew got his loudest cheers when he said: “As everyone here knows, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not believe Iran can be trusted.”
Lew said that Iran had not violated the terms of the November 2013 interim nuclear agreement as some had assumed in the wake of a report in the New York Times this week. “Even though Iran’s stockpile of uranium has gone up and down at various times over the past 18 months, this was something we anticipated and at each of the deadlines that have been set, Iran’s uranium stockpile levels have been within the levels that were agreed to.”
Lew said that the international community would be able to conduct “penetrating supervision” of Iran’s nuclear facilities. He said that there would be a “snapback mechanism” for renewed sanctions in case of an Iranian violation of the deal, which would not be subject to a veto by Russia or China.
“As history makes clear, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to future generations to give diplomacy a chance. Whether it was Nelson Mandela emerging from prison after 27 years to negotiate the peaceful end to apartheid, Ronald Reagan sitting at a table with a nation he called the “evil empire” to negotiate the end to the Cold War, or Menachem Begin meeting at Camp David to negotiate a peace accord with Egypt, Israel’s sworn enemy - diplomacy is not conducted with our friends but with our adversaries. And when given a chance, smart, tough, hard-fought diplomacy can succeed,” Jack said, before departing from the hall.