Netanyahu to U.S. Jews: Don't Let Deal Supporters Quash Real Iran Debate

Prime minister addressed Jewish community in live webcast on the contentious accord.

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Aug. 2, 2015. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the Web on Tuesday to call on American Jews to publicly oppose the nuclear deal with Iran signed in Vienna last month. In his address, picked up at some 100 Jewish communities throughout the United States, Netanyahu urged his listeners to judge the nuclear agreement on its merits and not through a partisan lens.

“Don’t let the deal’s supporters quash the real debate,” Netanyahu said. “The issue here is too important."

Netanyahu’s address is part of the effort to get the U.S. Congress to reject the deal in a vote scheduled for September. The White House, senior Republican figures, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer have all been putting pressure on those Democratic legislators who have not yet made up their minds.

Netanyahu noted that opposition leader Isaac Herzog, “who ran against me in this year’s election and who works every day in the Knesset to bring down my government, Herzog has said that there is no daylight between us when it comes to the deal with Iran. This is simply not a partisan issue in Israel It shouldn’t be a partisan issue in the United States either."

Shortly before Netanyahu’s address, Democratic senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida announced their support for the deal, which is considered an achievement for U.S. President Barack Obama.

On the other hand, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, one of Israel’s greatest friends in Congress, has yet to express his opinion on the issue, though various American news outlets say he was leaning toward opposing the deal. What’s more, public opinion polls issued recently show opposition to the deal growing. If Schumer declares his opposition, other congressional Democrats might follow suit.

To make rejection of the deal veto-proof would require 13 Democratic senators and 44 Democratic representatives to join the Republican majority and vote against the president.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas told a delegation of Israeli diplomatic correspondents that he believes enough votes can be obtained to override an Obama veto.

“The momentum is moving in our direction,” Cotton said. “I hope the more we know about this deal the more people would oppose this deal. Most Americans don’t believe the words ‘ayatollahs’ and ‘uranium’ go well together. I think more and more Democrats will be convinced to oppose this deal."

Obama is also fighting for Jewish American hearts. A few hours after Netanyahu's speech Obama met with a group of 16 leaders and prominent activists from the U.S.-Jewish community – a few of them support the deal and some of them oppose it or have yet to express their position. In recent weeks, since the deal was declared U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the head of the U.S. nuclear negotiating team Wendy Sherman and other American officials met with representatives of Jewish groups in the U.S. On Wednesday, Obama will address the nation at the American University in Washington, in an attempt to stop the drop in U.S. public support for the deal.

Netanyahu, in his address, said he had a responsibility to make sure the Israeli position against the nuclear agreement is heard. “The days when the Jewish people could not or would not speak up for themselves, those days are over,” he said.

He denied that his objections to the agreement stem from the tense relationship between himself and Obama, insisting his opposition was based on the substance of the agreement’s contests. “This isn’t about me and it’s not about President Obama,” he said. “It’s about the deal. Judge the deal on its substance and on its substance alone."

The prime minister also denied claims by the White House that he would object to any deal with Iran of any kind. He also denied that Israel is interested in seeing the United States go to war with Iran.

“The claim that we oppose this deal because we want war is not just false. It’s outrageous,” he said. “Israel wants to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program and Israel wants peace. This deal will advance neither goal."

Netanyahu stressed that the alternative to this nuclear deal is not war, as Obama has argued, but a better deal. He said that if Congress rejects this nuclear deal, the Iranians would come back to the negotiating table, “because they need this deal."