Simon Wiesenthal Center criticizes ‘gutter level’ of debate on Iran deal

According to Abe Foxman, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League, while Obama is not anti-Semitic, some of his statements may be misconstrued in a dangerous manner.

August 13, 2015 02:48
3 minute read.
US President Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at the dedication ceremony for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The debate over the Iranian-American nuclear accord has degenerated in an unacceptable way, the Simon Wiesenthal Center charged.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said that many on US President Barack Obama’s side who were lobbying for the deal had engaged in tactics that were “meant to bully and demean opponents – especially Jews.”

Cooper’s comments came as some American Jews have expressed reservations about the rhetoric that the Obama administration and its supporters have employed recently in addressing the agreement’s opponents. Jewish Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) has been among the targets, with one magazine running a cartoon accusing Schumer of being a “traitor” and portraying him as a woodchuck standing in front of an Israeli flag.

“I grew up during the Cold War, [which was a period] no less complex than today when it comes to the nexus of international diplomacy, nuclear proliferation, trade, human rights, Jewry and anti-Semitism,” Cooper said.

“Debates back then were hot, often harsh, but never reached the gutter level of what Senator Schumer and other opponents to the Iran deal are confronting today,” he continued. “In fact, on baseline issues of human rights and the anti-Semitic Soviet campaigns, there was a solid bipartisan consensus.”

While he said it was understandable that Obama wanted to rally his base, “especially among progressives, some of whom have contempt for the Jewish state on a quiet day,” Cooper took issue with the charges that such groups have leveled against opponents, particularly Jewish ones – such as having the same mind-set as the Revolutionary Guard, or being in the pocket of special interest groups like AIPAC.

“Such tactics will back-fire,” he asserted.

He added that “one by-product of all this is to reduce this debate to an administration-Bibi battle. Of course it isn’t, as all mainstream Israeli leaders, including the head of Labor, are opposed, as are such notable non-Zionists as the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE” and others.

When Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s founder, met with Obama recently, he raised the issue of how “through - out the negotiation process, no one from the P5+1, including the US, confront - ed the Iranians on their serial and genocidal anti-Israel screeds, nor on their state support for Holocaust denial,” Cooper said.

“The silence was especially deafening, as it took place against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Shoah,” he continued. “While Western leaders apparently didn’t want to rock the boat, the Iranians took the free pass on their genocidal hate and continue to run with it.”

Cooper was not alone in his criticism of the tactics used against opponents of the Iranian agreement. The editors of Tablet magazine – some of whom have expressed support for the deal – recently ran an editorial decrying the “use of Jew-baiting and other blatant and retrograde forms of racial and ethnic prejudice as tools to sell a political deal, or to smear those who oppose it.”

According to Abe Foxman, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League, while Obama is not anti-Semitic, some of his statements may be misconstrued in a dangerous manner.

“I know the president, I’ve heard him, I’ve met him. I don’t think any of it is intentional,” CNN reported Foxman as saying. “[But] some of us in the community are troubled [that] the messaging will be used and abused by bigots.”

In an email to the Post , Jonathan Greenblatt, Foxman’s successor at the ADL, also said he did not believe that the administration buys into “anti-Semitic canards.”

However, he added, “some of the characterizations used by those making the case for the JCPOA recall age-old stereotypes of Jews. Everyone engaged in the debate on the Iran deal must be cautious with words and mindful of sensitivities.”

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