What Division? Jewish Community United as Ever Over Iran Deal

Not only are left and right in Israel united in opposition to Obama's compact of appeasement; the deal has made bedfellows of an astonishing array of Jewish organizations in America.

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A pro-Israel demonstration in New York's Times Square.
A pro-Israel demonstration in New York's Times Square.Credit: Reuters
Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky

The New York Times is out with a story about U.S. President Barack Obama’s appeal to a Jewish community that is, in respect of the Iran deal, “divided and troubled.” I don’t buy it. I haven’t done a double-blind study, but looking back over my 35 or more years covering the Jewish beat, I find it hard to think of a major question on which the Jewish community has been more united than it is in its opposition to Obama’s compact of appeasement with Iran.

It’s plain as day that the Jewish community is not unanimous on Iran. Then again, the only thing on which it’s ever been unanimous is on the singularity of God. Even then, it’s unanimous only if one excludes the atheists. It strikes me that the Jewish community is less divided and troubled over the Iran deal than it is, say, on matrilineal descent, or German reparations, or Zionism, or same-sex marriage, or conversion, or negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs.

No, the startling thing about the Iran deal is how united the Jewish community is in opposition. This starts with the fact that the democratically elected prime minister of Israel was, in a surprise to the pollsters, lofted to a third term after taking his case against the deal to a joint meeting of the United States Congress. This prime minister was opposed in the election by a presidential son who leads a center-left coalition and who also turns out to be against the Iran deal.

Netanyahu speaks about Iran during a joint meeting of the United States Congress, March 3, 2015.Credit: AFP

It’s not only left and right in Israel that the Iran appeasement has brought together. It’s also made bedfellows of an astonishing array of Jewish organizations in America. The Anti-Defamation League is in agreement with the Zionist Organization of America and the revisionists of Americans for a Safe Israel and the American Jewish Committee. When does that happen? Most of the federations in the big cities are against the deal, even if New York’s has stood neutral.

Polling of American Jews is all over the place and American Jews are generally more liberal than the American public, which is polling against the deal, as is Israel’s public. My own instinct is that the public statements by Jewish institutions and individual leaders send the newsworthy signal. Meantime, the number of rabbis signing petitions against the deal is running thrice that of supporters. Since when have the sages been so together?

At a Democratic Party meeting the other day, the cladium Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is actually reported to have blocked a resolution praising Obama and the nuclear deal with Iran. To get an expression of support at a Democratic Party meeting, Haaretz reported, James Zogby had to circulate a side-letter.

U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), third from right, applauds as U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy confeCredit: Reuters

Jewish support for the president’s deal is being voiced primarily (not exclusively) through J Street. J Street, in my view, plays an important role in this fight – but mainly like the dissenting rabbis did when the Sanhedrin was considering a capital case. The Sanhedrin couldn’t hand down a death sentence if the rabbis were unanimous; there had to be a dissenter to discover some merit in the case for accused or the proceedings would come into doubt. Not to draw any inappropriate comparisons (no one is being accused of a capital crime), but it strikes me that J-Street’s dissent underscores the breadth of the opposition.

The most wonderful skepticism was voiced the other day by a Washington policy analyst, Robert Satloff. His ten posers for the president, offered to Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, will become known as the Satloff Questions. They start with the fact that the president insists the Iran deal enhances the security of Israel and America’s Arab Gulf allies, yet he is offering them compensation security packages. “If the Iran deal bolsters their security, shouldn’t their security needs be going down, not up?"

Satloff marks the fact that Obama claims to understand Israel’s security needs more than it's democratically elected leaders. “Are there other democracies whose leaders you believe don’t recognize their own best security interests,” he asks, “or is Israel unique in this regard?” He also wants to know why the administration is reluctant to send Israel our best weapon against the Iranian atomic redoubts, the “‘mountain-busting’ Massive Ordnance Penetrator."

The last Satloff Question focuses on the president’s abandonment of his campaign promise that the deal he’d accept is that the Iranians “end their nuclear program.” The way Satloff puts it is: “Why did your own position in 2012 become warmongering by 2015?” Satloff tells me in an overnight cable that he’s urging lawmakers to vote against the deal “as the only way to exert leverage to improve it."

That’s basically the strategy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined in March to the joint meeting of Congress. It’s also the recommendation that the liberal Democratic senator Chuck Schumer sketched in announcing his plan to vote no. Call it the AIJCUPOIP — for American Israeli Jewish Community Unified Position on the Iran Appeasement. J Street has validated that dissent is allowed. It’s a marvel there’s so little of it. Unanimity this broad comes along only once every generation or so. I say enjoy it while it lasts. 

Seth Lipsky, the founding editor of The Forward and a former foreign editor of The Wall Street Journal, is editor of The New York Sun.

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