Civil debate

"Despite these arguments and the conciliatory tone of Obama’s remarks toward Israel, we are still left with more questions and doubts than answers and certainty."

August 30, 2015 22:03
3 minute read.
A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally

A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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In a webcast Friday especially for an American-Jewish community battered by infighting, US President Barack Obama once again passionately defended the Iran nuclear arms deal.

The president presented his by now well-known points before the leaders of major Jewish organizations that the agreement “deals with the existential threat to Israel.” He ensured that Iran’s centrifuges in Natanz will be removed, except for a handful, and that this makes sure that those that remain cannot be used to create enriched uranium.

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He said the plant at Fordow will be converted into a research facility and will no longer have in it centrifuges that could be used to create nuclear materials. He also maintained that the US has ensured it can “snap back” the tight sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which Obama credited with bringing Iran to the negotiating table.

Despite these arguments and the conciliatory tone of Obama’s remarks toward Israel, we are still left with more questions and doubts than answers and certainty.

The US president has been unclear on precisely how sanctions would “snap back.” He has refused to articulate precisely which penalties the Iranians would face in the event of a transgression on their part, arguing this would be “counterproductive.” And while Obama said the US has reserved the right “to deploy new sanctions to address continuing concerns,” he has been sketchy regarding what sorts of sanctions these would be. He has also refrained from asking Congress to put in place potential sanctions should Iran violate the deal.

Other questions remain, like the ones raised by Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a recent email exchange with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

If the Iran deal truly enhances Israel’s security and the security of the US’s Arab Gulf allies, why has the Obama administration offered these same regional states huge security packages by way of compensation? If the deal truly brings more stability and security to the region shouldn’t the security needs of Israel and the Gulf states be going down, not up? While the US president is undoubtedly qualified to argue that the Iran deal enhances US security, how can he say the same about Israel’s security when its democratically elected leaders and a strong consensus on both the Right and the Left see things very differently? If the US president truly “has Israel’s back,” why has he refrained from committing to transferring to Israel the “mountain-busting” Massive Ordnance Penetrator? Instead, in a letter to New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Obama noted his willingness to send Israel a less effective weapon.

However, amid the uncertainty and doubt surrounding the agreement with Iran, which is likely to become reality later this month, there was one aspect of the US president’s webcast with which we agree without any reservation. The tone of debate between Israel and the US, between American Jews and between Democrats and Republicans surrounding the Iran deal has turned too vitriolic. We join Obama’s call for more civility.

“We’re all pro-Israel, and we’re all family… It’s better to air these things out even if it is uncomfortable, as long as the tone is civil,” noted Obama.

This is no easy matter. For the vast majority of Israelis and for many US Jews who empathize with them, the Iran deal is not just another difference in policy outlook between Washington and Jerusalem. It carries with it much more import. It’s an existential matter that could affect the future of Israel.

However, Jewish unity and strong ties between the US and Israel, whether or not the deal is passed, are also matters of life and death. Therefore, while it is perfectly legitimate and even necessary that each side in the debate over the Iran deal articulate its arguments forcibly and with passion, neither side should resort to personal attacks inferring dual loyalty for those Americans opposing the deal on one hand or a subservient court-Jew mentality for those supporting it on the other. As Obama correctly pointed out, US and Israeli policy concerning Iran will realign “pretty quick” after the upcoming Congress vote. There is life after the Iran deal.

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