WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his case against the Iranian nuclear accord to American Jews on Tuesday, calling on them in a live telecast to make their voices heard and oppose the deal.
The video call, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America, came as US Jewry has been struggling with the issue. One leader of the community – Greg Rosenbaum of the National Jewish Democratic Council – asserted this week that the debate was threatening to tear the US Jewish community apart.
Netanyahu stressed that there was vast support in Israel against the deal, including from opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who he said tries to bring his government down on a daily basis.
This is not a partisan issue in Israel, the prime minister declared, and should not be in the US, either.
He also stressed that it was not a personal issue between him and US President Barack Obama.
“I ask you to rise above partisan politics and deal with the substance,” he said.
And the substance, he argued to some 10,000 people on the call, is dangerous to both Israel and the US.
Netanyahu repeated his argument that regardless of whether Iran abides by the deal or cheats on it, it will have a path to a nuclear bomb. He also stressed that the 15 years until the deal’s expiration was “no time at all.”
Netanyahu further discounted the efficacy of intelligence and supervision, saying that it was “precarious” to rely on even the best intelligence in the world, and that the supervisory regime was flawed.
Pointing to the clause stipulating that the supervisors will not be able to visit an undeclared nuclear site for 24 days, he likened it to giving a drug lord a three-week warning before a bust. It is possible to flush a lot “of nuclear meth” down the toilet during that period, he said.
Unlike the Obama administration, which claims the deal will prevent an arms race in the Middle East, Netanyahu said the agreement would do the exact opposite. He warned that regional powers may seek similar nuclear-threshold programs, and that the deal increased the chances of war.
On this point, he took aim at the White House’s assertion that critics of the deal were seeking war, and called the claim “outrageous.”
“I don’t oppose this deal because I want war,” he said, “but because I want to prevent war.”
His urgent call was scheduled just days before Congress departs Washington for its August recess. Undecided members will return to their home states and districts to a torrent of lobbying from both critics and supporters of the agreement.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in a public and bitter dispute with the Obama administration over the agreement, plans on spending tens of millions of dollars to sway Democrats against the deal. And J Street, a liberal organization in favor of the Obama administration’s Middle East policies, is debuting its own television ads this week.
In the House of Representatives, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-California) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would prevent implementation of the agreement. The resolution of disapproval will see a vote by September 17, the end of a 60-day review period that Congress has to examine the deal.
Three Democratic senators – Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida) – endorsed the agreement on Tuesday.
Kaine and Boxer had strongly suggested support for the deal since it was announced on July 14. They join seven fellow Democrats who are on the record in favor of the accord.
But more than 30 Democrats are publicly undeclared.
Opponents of the deal must peel away 13 Senate Democrats and 44 House Democrats, alongside a united Republican majority, in order to disapprove of the deal and override a promised veto by the president.
Several of those senators say they are continuing to review the agreement. They are doing so privately, but also through public committee hearings, such as two that took place on Tuesday with nuclear non-proliferation and security experts.
Later Tuesday afternoon, after Netanyahu’s address, Obama hosted several leaders of the American Jewish community, including those in favor, those opposed, and those undeclared regarding the strength and wisdom of the agreement.
And on Wednesday at American University, Obama is scheduled to address the country on the benefits of the agreement and of the diplomatic process through which he says it emerged as a far preferable alternative to armed conflict. The speech is meant to echo one that former president John F. Kennedy delivered at the same university to stress the importance of nuclear disarmament.
In his telecast, Netanyahu also reiterated the argument that the deal will pour billions of dollars into Iran’s coffers, which will be used to fund subversive activities around the world. Even if only 10 percent of that money is diverted to those activities, 10% of hundreds of billions of dollars is a significant amount of cash.
“This is a very dangerous deal that threatens all of us,” he said, adding his feeling that it was his responsibility to speak out against it.