US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anyone who assumes the debate over the Iran deal will divide strictly along party lines should think again.
Some prominent American Jewish groups, rabbinical leaders and political figures who ordinarily align with the Obama administration and the Democratic Party are so far refraining from endorsing the Iran agreement – and, in some cases, are strongly criticizing it. If this trend continues, it could have serious implications for the deal’s chances of winning congressional approval.
The groups that are most loyal to the administration have remained faithful. The National Jewish Democratic Council, Americans for Peace Now, J Street and Ameinu (formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance) have endorsed the agreement.
But the major middle-of-the-road groups have not.
Two Jewish women’s organizations that are close to the Obama administration on domestic issues, Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women, have so far refrained from supporting the deal. Hadassah issued a statement expressing “acute concern” that the agreement “will fail to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
The Reform movement has likewise taken a cautious stand. The Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis issued a statement that refrained from endorsing the deal and said merely that they would “consult with our constituencies to better understand the consequences of this proposed agreement.”
In a possible hint as to which way the Reform leadership is leaning, the statement said that a recent five-point policy paper issued by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is a “helpful touchstone for our analysis of this agreement.”
The catch is that the first of those five points states, “Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities” – and according to the terms of the agreement, Iran will be allowed to delay Western access to its sites for as much as 24 days.
The United Synagogue of Conservatism Judaism has also so far refrained from endorsing the agreement.
Moreover, one of the most prominent Conservative rabbis in the United States, David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, wrote in Time magazine last week that the Iran deal is a “victory for anti-Semitism.”
Rabbi Wolpe noted President Barack Obama’s recent statement that although the Iranian regime exhibits “deep strains of anti-Semitism,” it is willing to put aside that anti-Semitism for the sake of its self-interest. According to Wolpe, history demonstrates that the president’s argument is an “illusion.”
He recalled that the Nazis diverted military resources, in the middle of a world war, to use for killing Jews; Vichy France “turned over the Jews who were its best and brightest” for deportation to the death camps; and the Soviet Union “lost so much cultural and business acumen and capital through years of suppression” of its Jewish citizens.
“Anti-Semites cannot help themselves,” Wolpe concluded. “To them, the injury is worthwhile if they can savage the Jews.... The belief that rational self-interest is a governing principle is a belief common to rational people.” He implied that Iranian support for anti-Jewish terrorism around the world is likely to continue, even though such behavior is contrary to Iran’s self-interest.
Meanwhile, a prominent New York Jewish newspaper not known for clashing with Obama has likewise voiced strong skepticism of the agreement.
While doubtful the deal can be stopped, the New York Jewish Week
nonetheless sharply criticized it in a front-page editorial. “The US backed down on key elements in the negotiations that it has long insisted on,” such as “anytime, anywhere” inspections, the editorial noted. It charged that President Obama’s “strong desire for the deal clouded his strategy [and] hampered his negotiators.” Not only have the Iranians “lied about their nuclear program” in the past, but “they plan to go on lying about the program,” the Jewish Week
To make matters worse, Tehran is “certain to use the billions of dollars freed up when sanctions are lifted for furthering its arms support of Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups.”
Perhaps most significant, the new AIPAC-sponsored Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran is led by five Democratic former members of Congress, including two high-profile Jewish Democrats – former Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada.
The sermons delivered, editorials published and positions taken – or not taken – by Jewish organizations in the days ahead could be consequential.
Many Democratic lawmakers, especially Jewish members of Congress, are likely to be keeping a close watch on the opinions expressed in the Jewish community as they try to decide which way to vote on the Iran agreement.The writer is the author of 15 books on Jewish history, Zionism and the Holocaust.