The Iran deal has been completed, and Jewish groups are sharing their ideas on how American Jews should respond. I am not happy with what I am reading. As someone who opposes the deal, I find that I don’t like the position of those who support it, but I don’t like the position of those who oppose it, either.
Let’s begin with J Street, which supports the accord and urges Congress to move it forward. The statement that it issued was dismayingly simplistic and misinformed.
I was not surprised that J Street supports the administration, but I was expecting a tougher line. I have friends who support the accord, and while I disagree with them, I understand their reasoning. The heart of their position is that while the deal is deeply problematic and poses significant dangers for Israel and others, the Obama administration did the best that it could. Forced to choose among several bad alternatives, the U.S. president chose the “least bad” option, which is the deal before us.
But J Street enthusiastically sings the deal’s praises. It lauds Iran’s recent compliance rather than its long history of lying and deceit. It endorses the very questionable verification procedures. It assures us that if Iran fails to comply, sanctions will “snap back into place” — a provision that a long line of experts has dismissed as unworkable. It asserts that there is no need to worry about sanction relief benefiting Iran’s proxy terrorists since “Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism is not a function of dollars and cents” — a claim that is incredible and contrary to common sense.
True, the J Street statement acknowledges that “the agreement is not perfect.” But, and this is the key, one reading the release would never know that Israel’s centrist and center left parties are distraught about the terms of the deal and see it as a threat to Israel’s security. Surely one might reasonably expect from J Street a greater measure of sensitivity to the concerns that Israel’s moderate political factions have expressed.
Let’s move on now to AIPAC. The AIPAC statement lists the flaws of the agreement, all of which I agree with. It then urges Congress to reject it and has launched an all-out campaign to bring about the plan’s defeat. But the problem is that it offers not a single compelling reason why this is a good idea or is likely to improve Israel’s security.
Directly challenging the president of the United States on a foreign policy issue that he has brought before Congress is a questionable strategy for the obvious reason that AIPAC is likely to lose. The fundamental rule of American political life is that the president generally gets his way on foreign policy matters that are important to him. AIPAC’s strategy is even more questionable because of the festering animosity between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the lingering resentment of many Democrats over what they see as Netanyahu’s insulting and partisan decision to address Congress without the president’s knowledge and prior approval.
During my last visit to Washington, a senior House aide told me of the furor that still exists among Democratic ranks over what is perceived as Netanyahu’s continuing partisan interventions. Obviously, lobbying by American Jews against the Iran deal has the potential to exacerbate an already difficult political reality for Israel.
But I want to be clear: If I felt that Israel’s security were at stake, I would not hesitate for a minute to join the lobbying effort against the accord and insist that defending Israel must be our foremost concern, whatever the risks.
Yet Israel’s security is not at stake. In fact, exactly the opposite is true: In the unlikely event that AIPAC succeeds in its lobbying and the deal is rejected, Israel would be worse off than if the accord is affirmed. Under this scenario Iran would produce a nuclear bomb quickly, posing an immediate threat to Israel’s existence. Another possibility is that despite a U.S. rejection, Iran will mostly abide by the terms of the deal, our allies will dismantle their sanctions, and Israel and the U.S. will stand isolated and alone against a rejuvenated Iran. How is this better?
Why, then, is AIPAC asking the Jews of America to fight against the deal? The explanation given is that once the accord is rejected, America will work with its allies to negotiate a better deal. But this is an exercise in pure fantasy, as AIPAC surely knows. No one involved in this process believes there will be another deal. AIPAC has also said that win or lose, it wants to send a message to Iran. But this makes no sense since it is not at all clear what the message will be or how it will be received. As a supporter of AIPAC and an admirer of its political savvy, I am at a loss to explain what it is doing.
My suggestion is that American Jews proclaim their profound misgivings about this deal, indicate their regret that it will be approved, and then demand a package of political, economic, and military aid to compensate Israel for the tremendous risks that she will face. Perhaps this package will include a new security umbrella for Israel, or membership in NATO, or a protocol for what action the U.S. will take to counter Iranian subversion throughout the Middle East. It should include a long list of weapons systems as well as political understandings about support in the United Nations and elsewhere. It should be ambitious and far-reaching, put forward on behalf of a faithful ally that does not always agree with America, but that stands with America and requires her support, especially now.
Such an approach, I believe, would make sense to American Jews, who would rally behind it and fiercely advocate for it. I urge our organizational leadership to consider it. Or, J Street and AIPAC can continue to do what they are doing, leaving American Jews confused, uncertain, uncomfortable and divided.
Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
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