U.S. Jews Torn Over Trump's Exit From Iran Nuclear Deal

Many fear that renewed debate over the deal could open up wounds from 2015 – when the agreement went into place – causing divisions and increasing tensions within the community

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, May 8, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, May 8, 2018.Credit: \ JONATHAN ERNST/ REUTERS
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement Tuesday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal drew mixed reactions from the American Jewish community. Trump won praise from the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC and other right-wing groups and was denounced by leftist organizations that supported the accord.

Aside from those reactions, some Jewish activists raised concern that the renewed debate over the agreement could open up wounds from 2015 – when the deal went into place – causing divisions and increasing tensions within the community.

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AIPAC released a statment in support of Trump's decision, saying that “given the combination of a critically flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the international community’s inability so far to adequately address these shortcomings, we believe the administration’s decision today provides an important opportunity to address the shortcomings of the deal and to confront Iran’s escalating regional aggression.”

The influential lobby, which failed to block the deal in 2015, added that “strong and effective economic and political pressure previously brought Iran to the negotiating table. Working with our allies, we must once again use the tools of American diplomacy and economic pressure to fix the deal’s shortcomings and counter Iran’s malign activities.” It remains to be seen whether Trump is truly interested in trying to negotiate a new deal with Iran and if the Iranian government will have any trust in resumed negotiations with Washington, but the fact that AIPAC expressed openness to the idea is significant in itself.

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The left-wing advocacy group J Street, which worked in 2015 to ensure sufficient support for the agreement in Congress, attacked Trump for his decision. “The president’s decision is a wholly baseless rejection of the conclusion of our closest allies’ military and intelligence services, international nuclear experts and his own Secretary of Defense that the agreement is working,” the organization said. It also warned of a repetition of America's failed war in Iraq, stating that “This reckless move risks leading us down the path to a costly and bloody war of choice against Iran, a country nearly four times Iraq’s size with more than twice its population.”

J Street shared on its social media platforms a statment by Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who spoke at the organization's conference this year. According to Sanders, “President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal is the latest in a series of reckless decisions that move our country closer to conflict.” He added that “Real American power is not shown by our ability to blow things up, but by our ability to forge international consensus around shared problems. That is what the Iran agreement did. Today President Trump put us on a very different, more dangerous path.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition praised Trump for his “bold foreign policy” and encouraged its members and supporters to write and thank him for the decision. American Jewish billionaire and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is the main donor to the organization, is reportedly going to meet with Trump on Wednesday in Washington. As of Tuesday night, the meeting did not appear on the president's official schedule.

Trump also received strong praise from the Orthodox Union, which said it “commends” his decision. Nathan Diament, the union's executive director for public policy, said “the Iran nuclear deal has serious shortcomings. Its sunset clause is the most serious as it paves the way for Iran to legitimately obtain nuclear weapons capacity. It also suffers from a weak inspections regime and no provisions constraining Iran’s ballistic missile activity nor Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism across the globe. Since the deal was signed, Iran has continued these nefarious and violent activities.”

The Jewish Democratic Council of America issued a statment criticizing Trump for his decision, calling it “a mistake of historic proportion.” The organization added: “There is no doubt that the deal has limitations, including focusing narrowly on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the country’s other harmful behaviors. But, let us make no mistake, the accord has prevented a nuclear armed Iran.” According to the group, the U.S. withdrawal “sets us apart from our friends even more, and makes us appear weak and erratic. As a result of the President’s decision, the U.S. will be isolated – not Iran.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, a prominent Democratic Jewish lawmaker from Florida who voted against the nuclear deal in 2015, released a statment criticizing Trump for withdrawing from it. “I regret the President’s decision to weaken American leadership around the globe,” Deutch said. “This isn’t how we ‘get tough’ on Iran. In fact, President Trump’s decision today makes it harder to exert American leadership and influence on all of the dangerous things Iran continues to do outside the scope of the deal. To stop Iran from developing and testing ballistic missiles and to crackdown on its support for terrorism, we should lead our allies on the imposition of tough multilateral sanctions.”

Besides expressions of support or criticism, Trump’s decision also brought up memories of how divisive the debate over the deal was back in 2015. One prominent Jewish group, the American Jewish Committee, criticized Mort Klein, the leader of the Zionist Organization of America, after he wrote that former U.S. President Barack Obama purposefully tried to help Iran's ability to harm Israel. 

“While you are free to oppose the Iran deal, as we did, claiming that President Obama pursued a deal with the express purpose of hurting Israel is ridiculous, offensive, and most importantly, turns good people against the Jewish state. Such sentiments are unworthy of a Jewish leader,” the American Jewish Committee tweeted. Klein, for his part, wrote that his organization is urging Trump “to make clear that if Iran doesn’t end their nuke program,” the United States and Israel “will be forced to consider military action.”

Michael J. Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, wrote that he hopes “the American Jewish community doesn’t spend a year fracturing from the inside over the aftermath, like it did in the lead up to the deal. What’s done is done; what comes next is what is now important.”

A similar sentiment was expressed in a statement released by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, which stated that the local community “was deeply divided” over the agreement back in 2015. “Whether or not one agrees with today’s decision, we must come together to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and to address other regional threats from Iran, particularly its support of Hezbollah and Hamas,” the organizaiton stated.

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