US Jewish leaders push Obama to act on Iran

Several hundred Jewish leaders, activists plan to converge on Washington to back Iran sanctions bill.

Obama 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Obama 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Several hundred Jewish leaders and activists are planning to arrive here Thursday to urge top Obama administration officials and US congressmen to take action on Iran. They are pushing for Congress to quickly pass an Iran sanctions bill sponsored by US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman and otherwise take serious economic and diplomatic steps to pressure Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear capabilities that threaten Israel. "Congress is back, legislation is on the agenda, and this is September, when at some level decisions are being made in connection with Iran," Anti-Defamation League Washington Director Jess Hordes said of the planning of the event. His organization will be joining the United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the National Conference of Soviet Jewry and several other groups as part of the effort. "A government that has so little regard for human life, truth and human rights as does the current Iranian regime must not be entrusted to possess the most powerful weapons known to humankind," the event organizers said, in a statement announcing the advocacy day. So far, the group is scheduled to hear from Berman, House Minority Leader John Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor at an open forum and then meet with an administration official before breaking up into groups to lobby individual legislators on Capitol Hill. Berman's Iran legislation would sanction companies providing Iran with refined petroleum as well as insurance for such trade and other related measures. The legislation was originally introduced in May, along with a similar Senate bill, but Berman has held off on advancing it to give the diplomatic process time to work. However, Berman indicated this summer that he would be looking to take action on the legislation pending the late September deadline that the Obama administration gave Iran to respond to its diplomatic overtures. At the same time, the Senate is looking to hold hearings and otherwise build momentum for its legislation. It's not clear at this point how the Obama administration feels about the sanctions bills, though it has threatened "crippling sanctions" against Iran should diplomatic engagement fail. The White House would not comment on whether or not it supported the proposed legislation. Though the sponsors of Thursday's advocacy day have a wide coalition of groups working with them, some Jewish activists have taken issue with the approach. "We urge rejecting deadlines imposed by outside parties, or deadlines that are the product of anything other than assessments by the Obama administration of the state-of-play of current diplomatic efforts," said Americans for Peace Now President Debra DeLee in a statement. "We also believe that additional sanctions aimed squarely at the ruling regime and its members may make sense, but that the US must not make the mistake of pursuing sanctions that target the Iranian people - like the 'crippling' sanctions currently under consideration."