Dear Liberal American Jews,
Congratulations. Many of us democracy-loving Israelis cheered America’s political resilience as power transferred peacefully on January 20, defying Donald Trump’s rantings. And many of us join you in wishing President Joe Biden good luck. But we’re nervous too. We’re not sure Biden has Israel’s back regarding our greatest enemy: Iran. Heck – we’re not sure if you have our back regarding Iran either.
It’s confusing. Much of Biden’s foreign policy team boasts about having crafted the shameful, dangerous Iran deal Biden vows to restore. Yet he said “no” to lifting sanctions to woo Iran to negotiate. Biden’s persuadable. So why are you, our key allies, American Jews AWOL? Why are you still fighting the now-blessedly-less-relevant Trump wars, dodging this nuclear-powered battle between democracy and dictatorship, which could determine the future of the Jewish state, the Jewish people, the West itself?
Clearly, Iran isn’t on your mattering map. You refuse to acknowledge how dangerous the Iranian regime is – to America not just Israel; how urgent the issue is; and how harmful – not just useless – Barack Obama’s 2015 JCPOA agreement with Iran was.
I know I am being too Israeli; inconvenient and impolite. Trump’s polarizing presidency has made everything Obama did above criticism and any position Trump took beneath contempt. But in recovering from Trump’s assault on democracy, America needs nuanced thinking, not partisan cheerleading. Restoring a commitment to truth in all its messiness requires some self-criticism and intense debate among the “good guys” too. The Republicans have proven what constant toadying to a president does to your party, your country, your soul. Why be Biden’s lapdogs – especially when he may appreciate lobbyists demanding a hard line with the mullahs?
So ask yourself two questions: 1) Israelis are crazily polarized too – isn’t Israel’s left-to-right military and political consensus rejecting the Iran agreement striking? 2) Isn’t it even more striking that so many Middle Eastern enemies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE so feared Obama’s softness toward Iran that they buried decades-old hatchets and started cooperating?
Those surprises should stop you from reading Iran through the reductionist “Trump-bad, Obama-good” worldview. It should get you studying the issue honestly.
Start by reading – at least twice – the detailed, thoughtful Atlantic article my friends and mentors Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi published, “The Case Against the Iran Deal.” Trigger warning: It will make you squirm. They write authoritatively that “The JCPOA didn’t diminish the Iranian nuclear threat; it magnified it.” They warn that reviving this dumb deal “will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.”
Iran, they explain, needs “three components” to nuclearize. The JCPOA inadequately addresses Iran’s rush to produce “highly enriched uranium.” It “largely ignores” the quest for a “functional warhead.” And JCPOA “actually advances” the third: a “missile capable of delivering it.” Most alarming, the agreement’s “fundamental assumptions – that Iran had abandoned its quest for a military nuclear option and would moderate its behavior – have been thoroughly disproved.” America must bargain hard, threatening the mullahs with economic ruin unless they sign a deal that “verifiably and permanently remove(s) Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.” No nukes must mean no “nuclear infrastructure.”
Additionally, in Never Alone, Natan Sharansky and I show that this agreement was “reckless” because it emboldened Iran’s non-nuclear aggression: “As billions of oil dollars flowed back to Iran, hundreds of millions of terror dollars flowed straight to Hezbollah, thanks to the United States. Spending Iran’s money liberally, Hezbollah morphed from a ragtag series of terror cells into a well-financed, formidable army, planning terror strikes abroad too.”
So where are you, my liberal American Jewish friends? Given a choice between trusting us and believing the homophobic, sexist, antisemitic, anti-American, Holocaust-denying, liberty-repressing regime, are you sure you’re backing the right horse? Perhaps you should consult with Ruhollah Zam, a 42-year-old Iranian journalist? Sorry, you can’t. The regime kidnapped and executed him. How about Navid Afkari, the champion wrestler killed for protesting, whose tombstone Iranian secret police recently destroyed? How about a woman’s perspective? Alas, Iranian agents shot Neda Agha-Soltan during the 2009 protests. And as for Hassan Afshar, he was executed for a consensual homosexual act when he was 17. Do you even recognize these names?
If I sound a bit in-your-face about Iran’s mullahocracy, it’s because I take their threats personally. As an American, I am targeted – we’re “Big Satan.” As an Israeli I am targeted – we’re “Little Satan.” As a Jew I am targeted – having mass-murdered 116 Jews and non-Jews in Argentina, the regime will hunt us anywhere. And as the father of Israeli soldiers, I know that my kids’ chances of being targeted by Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists soar when more money flows from the US into Iran’s coffers, while the chances plummet when the mullahs feel financially pinched.
So this is a gut question: Why don’t you care about this more? It’s a brain question: Have you really studied the problem? It’s a vision question: Can you trust a regime that kills its own people that ruthlessly? And beyond the tactical question of how best to stop Iran’s rush to go nuclear is the existential question: Why are you so furious about Trumpian boors online – whom I abhor too – yet so lax about these bloodthirsty killers brimming with super-weapons and seeking more?
This isn’t an academic question, it’s a ticking time bomb. Do your homework – quickly! Thoroughly! And cash in your chips. You have supported Biden loyally, enthusiastically. Time to push him to keep pushing Iran aggressively, not only for our sakes – for yours too!
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” the writer is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University and the author of nine books on American history and three books on Zionism. His book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.