A Hollywood tale of two congressmen

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look out a window (photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY PETE SOUZA)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look out a window
In Southern California, two Hollywood- area congressmen are weighing in heavily on the Iran deal. In the Israeli press last week, former congressman Mel Levine (US Representative 1983-1993), whose bar mitzva was celebrated in his Hollywood temple, wrote a ranked-most-read op-ed analysis concluding the Iran deal was “best for both the United States and Israel.”
In the piece, Levine lauds the “highly creative snapback provisions” of the deal, and claims the accord “blocks all potential paths to an Iranian bomb.”
The congressman’s piece was met with a unison barrage of angry reader comments, impolitely suggesting Levine doesn’t know his subject.
Watching this barrage, I felt moved to ask Levine via an email to his law office how he accounts for Israelis uniformly being against such a deal which is so good for them. Are Israelis poorly informed? Have Israelis not read the deal carefully (as implied by his title, “Rush to Judgment”)? Are Israelis too close to the theater of conflict, with Iranian-supplied artillery raining down on them, to know what is for their own good? (Are Israelis too afraid the crocodile will eat them first, paraphrasing Churchill, to act rationally?) Levine replied in an email that he doubted the existence of an Israeli consensus against the deal. He cites in his piece two long-retired Israeli security officials, who subsequently became politician-activists on the Left, as authorities that this Iran deal is a good deal for Israel.
Levine alleges Israel is engaged in an irrational politics of fear generated by certain Israeli politicians.
He asserted to me that 80 percent of the Israelis he speaks to agree with his analysis. Polling evidence to the contrary and the overwhelming vocal support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position by Israeli opposition leaders and legions of experts across the board do not sway him.
Meanwhile, in Burbank, California, (synonymous to us baby boomers with “Sock It To Me” from Laugh-In), Congressman Adam Schiff (serving as US Representative in Los Angeles districts since 2001) has also been having his difficulties socking it to Israelis with the Iran deal, but of a different sort.
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Schiff is a former California prosecutor who never lost a case. He has not been a supporter of the deal, considering it deeply flawed because, inter alia, (i) there is no Iranian accounting for its past nuclear weaponization work, (ii) large numbers of centrifuges are being left in place, and (iii) there are strong prospects for a future Iran enrichment program under the deal. Now that the bad deal has been effected, Congressman Schiff judges there is more risk to blocking this deal than there is to letting it pass. The congressman hopes over time the bad deal can be improved to correct its grave defects, Israeli skepticism and opposition notwithstanding.
Congressman Schiff was asked by The Atlantic this week the same volcanic question I asked Levine: how does he square his judgment allowing the deal with the unified Israeli opposition to it. To his credit, Congressman Schiff gives The Atlantic no flim-flam. He replies in an honest form rare for a politician: “I don’t know.”
Congressman Schiff acknowledges the “near wall-to-wall opposition” across the Israeli spectrum and throws his hands up, saying, “I’ve tried to understand why the [Israeli] perspective is different, and I’ve struggled with this... I can’t give an answer.”
Congressman Schiff believes the way forward is to try to fix a bad deal rather than reject it, as rejection may pose even bigger risks. That is what leadership is – a person facing up to unpleasant circumstances and making a decision, not based on friendship, but on his own risk assessment. Representative Schiff says the choice is between two horrible choices, and that the Israelis’ choice to block the deal is the choice he considers more horrible.
These two congressmen served/ serve a constituent demographic immersed in the Hollywood entertainment business. While not far from Disneyland, they are nearer the lots of MGM, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, close to the wonderful Universal Studios with its vast, magnificent outdoor exhibits of Spielberg’s HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, Hitchcock’s Psycho and other fantasy constructions of epic human destruction, depravity and war. In and around their districts the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day was made. The film’s term describing a nuclear war that killed 3 billion people is “judgment day.” Governor Schwarzenegger, real-life California politician, plays the part of the Terminator going back in time to prevent the nuclear war. Not exactly like these congressmen are trying to avert a nuclear war, but it’s close enough to bear noting. These congressmen are today much closer to being real-life Terminators (or not) than the governor ever was.
The United States government is attempting to execute an articulated appeasement policy toward Iran. While the 1930s gave appeasement a bad name when the League of Nations and collective security broke down, appeasement – making material concessions to an enemy in hope of avoiding armed conflict – can be a very prudent course, an intelligent policy of compromise to avoid war. The goal of the current administration is to employ appeasement that does not make war more likely or more favorable to the enemy. To put this in California Disney terms, the current administration is utilizing appeasement to create a Tomorrowland of a Middle East free of Iranian nuclear bombs.
What do Israelis (and US Arab allies) think of that? They like that theme park, but “wall-to-wall,” as Congressman Schiff says, Israelis (and US Arab allies) don’t believe it works.
The Americans are saying, like the Terminator, that if it doesn’t, “We’ll be back.” Maybe. In the meantime, it’s hasta la vista, baby.
The writer is an attorney and venture capitalist working with Israeli technology companies.