Ugly Summer for U.S. Jews as Iran Debate Morphs Into War

Jewish Americans are fighting over Iran deal as though only Israel is at stake, obscuring the fact that this is a global, not parochial, issue.

Peter Joseph
Charles Bronfman and Susie Gelman
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Supporters line seventh avenue during the 'Stop Iran' protest Wednesday, July 22, 2015, near Times Square in New York.
Supporters line seventh avenue during the 'Stop Iran' protest Wednesday, July 22, 2015, near Times Square in New York. Credit: AP
Peter Joseph
Charles Bronfman and Susie Gelman

The summer has been an ugly one for the American Jewish community. What should have been a policy debate over the Ian nuclear deal devolved into something much more pernicious and overwhelming. The Iran deal, as important as it is, has become so divisive that the damage it is doing to American Jewry, and even world Jewry, is on the verge of becoming permanent. It has taken on the appearance of the war of the Jews, as if only our community has a stake in the debate’s outcome.

And it’s getting worse. When the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is subjected to death threats and compared to Jewish concentration camp guards for his championing the deal, something has gone terribly awry

This must stop. People on both sides of the debate need to pause, take stock of what is happening, step back on the rhetorical front and restore an environment in which political differences do not subsume our shared identity.

It is understandable that both supporters and opponents of the deal feel strongly about their positions, given what is at stake. Both sides believe that they are arguing for an outcome that is in the United States' and Israel’s joint best interests. That’s why it is so heart-wrenching to watch the American Jewish community divide into two camps and demonize each other to an extent nonexistent in memory.

Jewish opponents of the deal such as Senator Chuck Schumer are accused of advocating for Israel to the detriment of the United States, rather than being acknowledged as people who have good faith reasons to oppose the accord. Jewish proponents, including many who work for the Obama administration, are accused of being “court Jews” selling out their brethren to curry favor with an administration accused by some of treating Israel unfairly, rather than being acknowledged as viewing this deal as the best solution to a problem that has vexed successive presidents from both parties.

What should be a legitimate heated debate over policy has become a fight over who is welcome under the American Jewish tent, and not only is it destroying the American Jewish community from the inside, it is playing into the hands of those who doubt Jewish motives and loyalty and whose anti-Semitism is apparent.

Furthermore, the vicious internecine warfare and the focus on Jewish views and votes is creating the perception that the Iran issue revolves primarily around Israel, obscuring the fundamental fact that Iran’s nuclear ambitions present a global problem and not a parochial one. The Iranian nuclear program has been addressed by the world community in the form of international sanctions, and the negotiations were conducted by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, indicating the severity of the issue for the entire world. The nastier the debate becomes in the Jewish world on both sides of the ocean, the more the spotlight is trained upon Israel rather than on Iran, which is where it should be.

It is time – past time, really – for the American Jewish community to restore the parameters of this debate to where they properly belong. It is eminently possible to be a loyal American and a fervent supporter of Israel and to come out on either side of the Iran deal. Questioning the motives of those who disagree with your position comes with an enormous cost.

The dispute over the Iran deal must be a disagreement over policy only, and not a struggle to define or delimit American Jewish identity according to a particular litmus test. That can only further divide our community.

When the Iran deal debate has concluded, American Jews must be able to unite again in support of common positions, including ensuring Israel’s ironclad safety in a post-deal world, securing its future as a Jewish democracy, and maintaining a rock solid U.S.-Israel alliance. The American Jewish community is standing on the edge of a precipice; let us step back while continuing to argue, rather than battle as we plunge into the depths.

Peter A. Joseph is chairman of Israel Policy Forum; Charles R. Bronfman is chairman of the organization’s Advisory Committee; Susie Gelman is a member of the Board.

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