Opponents of the Iran deal are not happy and they will remain so until they figure out that the only way forward is to temporarily unify their individual fiefdoms into a solid mass of opposition. This communal expression needs, to the extent that is possible, to imitate the unifying focus that eventually led to Jackson-Vanick.
The real question actually is, do we (those opposed to the deal) deserve more respect than we are presently getting on our issue from Congress? Or, asking the question another way, just what are we telling Congress that we want? I submit that we are not sending a message that is sufficiently clear.
The Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) is a case in point. Boston, which is under the CJP (Federation) umbrella, came out valiantly weeks ago, in reflexive opposition to the deal. But then last week, Barry Schrage, President of the CJP, as a consolation prize, to those members of the community who had been bruised as the result of CJP’s opposition, put his signature on a letter that endorsed a second national webinar during which the President will be permitted to “re-sell” the deal. I understand his, and that of other Federation Presidents innate fear of donor alienation. But incurring the crippling cost of the collateral damage that will with certainty result as a by-product of the Iran deal, is an outlandish price to pay for donor appeasement.
The problem is Mr. Schrage did not have a herd of committed oppositionist organizations to take cover with. Instead he was left attached to the neutered body of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). JFNA is the umbrella organization for all of the Federations nationally and by default becomes the national spokesman for the Jewish community. And that representative voice, on the question of the legitimacy of the Iran deal, presently represents nothing more than a blank slate. This ambiguous messaging, creates an opportunity for Congress to avoid the expenditure of political capital, and to continue to shelter with minimum risk under the political blanket of the President’s mandate. Congress is not to blame for the ambiguous signal that we are sending. J-Street is cleaning our clock.
In order to counteract the neutralizing impact of disunity, it is essential that all communal fiefdoms who have been speaking out in opposition individually, agree to temporarily shed the limiting confines of their own individual brands. This would entail the process of “ceding” turf to a central authority who would speak on behalf of a “coalition of the opposed”. By doing so the “voice of opposition which is now fragmented and less than optimally effective, would begin to take the shape and to carry the weight of a more consensual and encompassing vehicle. If we are organizationally more fearful of ceding turf and co-authoring a strategy, then we are not truly fearful enough of what the day after the deal will look like. This failure to under assess the downside sends the same tentatively ambiguous signal to Congress, and gives Congress the unearned cover that they so desperately need in order to continue to avoid the expenditure of political capital.
As a people, we may be presently split down the middle, but for those that have embraced the truth, it is incumbent to find a path to unity.