US President Barack Obama has dropped the hammer on 16 Democratic senators who have joined a bold Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, in co-sponsoring new legislation that will increase sanctions against Iran, should they fail to follow through on their pledges to halt uranium enrichment. The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 has also attracted 43 Republican co-sponsors, bringing the total to 59.
If they get to 67, they will have a veto-proof majority, something the White House is doing everything to prevent.
One of those brave 16 is my close friend Sen. Cory Booker, who has had a unique and special relationship with the Jewish community since I met him as an undergraduate at Oxford University in 1992. As is well-known, Cory served as president of my Oxford L’Chaim society, where he arguably became the first African-American/Christian head of a major Jewish organization in history. Cory and I then began studying Torah on a regular basis, and he has probably been invited to lecture more American Jewish communal venues than any other political figure in the US. What Cory has seen, as have his other intrepid Senate colleagues, is that Iran is an immense danger to the world in general, and to Israel and the US in particular.
Iran is a menace. This is a regime that exhibits brutality in every field. I just finished reading Days of God by James Buchan, which is a phenomenal history of modern Iran from Reza Shaw’s time, who ruled Iran from 1925-1941, to Muhammad Reza, who ruled as Shah until 1979, through Khomeini’s Iranian revolution of that same year, to the regime currently run by the murderous and barbarous Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
This is a regime that recruited boys from the age of 12 to fight against Saddam Hussein’s armies in the 10-year Iran-Iraq war; this regime move caused even ruthless Iraqi soldiers to cry as they mowed down the Iranian boys attacking them across battlefields.
Iran also used children in this war to clear minefields, as detailed in Ami Pedahzur’s Root Causes of Suicide Terrorism. It is the same regime that stones women to death for accusations of infidelity, and hangs homosexuals from cranes in the capital of Tehran.
It is the regime that the US State Department lists as one of the foremost global exporters of terrorism, funding Hezbollah, which blew up 241 American peacekeeping marines, soldiers and sailors in 1983 Beirut. It is the regime which mowed down their own people in the streets of Tehran in the Green Revolution of 2009, when innocent Iranians protested a stolen election. And it is the regime that publicly shot 26-year-old protester Neda Agha-Soltan in the heart.
Today Iran, like a heat-seeking missile, continues to seek out warm Jewish blood wherever it may be spilled, like the 2012 brutal murder of six innocent Israelis who planned simply to lie on a beach on a Bulgarian vacation – but instead came home in a box.
That Obama is placing all the pressure on 16 senators from his own party rather than squarely on the Iranians where it belongs is, sadly, true to form.
Whatever debatable successes the president has had in domestic policies, what is indisputable is his catastrophic foreign policy. Iraq today has turned into one giant suicide explosion, and large parts of the country – like Fallujah, where so many marines have died – are slowly going over to al-Qaida. Egypt is a mess and utterly distrusts the US. Secretary of State John Kerry comes to Israel every week to make what he calls an urgent peace between Israel and the Palestinians, yet utterly ignores the 130,000 dead in the Syrian civil war, just slightly to the north. Russia has gained the upper hand over the US in global diplomacy, and Vladimir Putin bestrides the world like a colossus.
With all that, President Obama is insistent on pressuring brave Democratic senators of his own party who want to keep Iran in check, so that he can hand over $10 billion to the murderous mullahs to enable them to prop up their regime – without demanding that they dismantle their nuclear framework.
And a great deal of the president’s pressure is falling on our newly elected Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Last month, Taglit-Birthright co-founder Michael Steinhardt, who is also a former chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, and I took out fullpage ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In these ads, we promoted the message of my hero and friend, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, to whom I introduced Sen. Booker, beseeching Obama as well as the US Senate to insist that Iran’s nuclear facilities be dismantled. Inspections, Wiesel said, are not enough, as we discovered with North Korea – which agreed to a similar deal in 1994, only to lie and detonate a bomb in 2006.
Contrasting Wiesel’s call in the Jewish community was Peter Beinart, a member of Cory’s Rhodes Scholar class and someone I hosted at Shabbat meals at Oxford. While Beinart and I remain friendly, that did not stop him from savaging Cory (do I detect a hint of envy?) for his close relationship with the Jewish community in general, and me in particular – in a column where Beinart was forced to change the libelous subhead, after he claimed it was written by an underling without his approval.
Unlike Wiesel, who is known as one of the most respected moral voices in the word, Beinart, of course, is best-known for calling for a boycott on Israeli products like Soda Stream, because they are manufactured beyond the Green Line – the arbitrary armistice line of 1949 where the Arab armies, threatening Israel’s annihilation, were halted.
Beinart’s column and forum, Open Zion, has now been canceled by the Daily Beast, presumably due to lack of interest, and he has been reduced to writing his screeds in Haaretz, where he has become yet another tiresome critic of Israel. (Incidentally Beinart has accepted my invitation to debate on Iran, and we hope to stage the event shortly.) Beinart and his kind scapegoat Israel’s settlers as principal obstacles to Middle East peace, just as Khomeini himself scapegoated the US for the same. Khomeini’s followers coined the now-familiar Iranian chant of America as the great Satan.
Today, Iran is developing intercontinental missiles with a range that could reach targets in the continental US. But even if that were not the case, imagine how courageous it must be for a Democratic senator like Cory Booker to oppose, as one of his first acts as a newly elected senator, the leader of his own party, the president of the United States, on insisting that Iran now acquire weapons of mass destruction.
In 1955, president John F. Kenney published his Pulitzer-Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, which detailed the gutsy actions on the part of US senators who followed their conscience on matters of principle, even if it lost them votes or ran afoul of their own party. Since then the American people have significantly soured on Congress, which today has an approval rating of just 9 percent. But what Cory and his 15 other Democratic colleagues have shown is that courage in the US Senate is alive and well.
The writer, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love Is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiShmuley.