This month, Roland Moskowitz, a Cleveland physician, and Sandra Lippy, a retired health care executive from Boca Raton, Fla., got on the line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. As two people who have been active in major Jewish organizations, they were among thousands of American Jews invited to listen to a webcast whose message was: Oppose the Iran nuclear deal.
Moskowitz and Lippy listened as Netanyahu claimed the deal would give Iran “hundreds of bombs tomorrow”; turn any terrorist group backed by Iran into a “terrorist superpower”; allow Iran to “have its yellowcake and eat it, too”; cause a nuclear arms race in the Middle East; provide Iran with billions of dollars; and pave Iran’s path to a bomb.
The Israeli prime minister was contemptuous of the view, expressed by President Barack Obama, that those who oppose the deal favor war, calling it “not just false, but outrageous.” Netanyahu insisted, against all evidence, that he rejects the deal “because I want to prevent war.”
Lippy was not impressed. She felt all the doomsday lines were tired. She’s not about to get on the phone to her representative to press for Congress to condemn the deal and then gather enough votes to override Obama’s inevitable veto of the resolution. That’s what Netanyahu wants to achieve: the deal’s demise, using American Jews as a vehicle.
“It’s not a great deal, but it’s enough of a deal to postpone the nuclear situation and maybe give us time to work things out,” Lippy told me. “While they’re being sharply reduced in their nuclear capacity, we can sit down again over the next several years and talk about the Holocaust, Israel and human rights, and that is why I go along with it.”
She’s right. A merit of this deal is that it would condemn the United States and Iran to a relationship — hostile, but still a framework for airing differences and doing business — over the next 15 years. Most young Iranians no more believe in “Death to America” than they believe the Hidden Imam is going to show up tomorrow.
Moskowitz was left feeling uneasy. He thinks the deal is worrying but not worrying enough for the United States to walk away. Nor does he want family strife. His wife, Peta Moskowitz, is a firm supporter of the deal and a member of J Street, the largest Jewish organization to back Obama’s Iran diplomacy. These strains are not unusual. Within families and across the American Jewish community, discussion of the Iran deal is fiery.
A few things must be said. Netanyahu’s performance was of a piece with his habit of intervening in American politics, evident at the time of the last presidential election, when his preference for Mitt Romney was clear. His relations with Obama are bad. He tries to circumvent Obama, often in clumsy ways, further undermining the relationship. It’s enough to imagine Obama calling thousands of Israelis to encourage them to oppose a piece of sensitive legislation in the Knesset to gauge how inappropriate Netanyahu’s behavior is.
The Netanyahu webcast was co-sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (an umbrella organization so resistant to the age-old fertile cacophony of Jewish opinion that it rejected J Street’s application for membership last year) and Jewish Federations. Several leading Jewish groups — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League — have come out against the Iran deal. This is unsurprising; they tend to move in lockstep with Israel. But it’s troubling because it’s unclear how representative of American Jews as a whole these organizations are.
Some polls have suggested a majority of Jews favor the Iran deal; certainly the community is divided. It’s no service to Jews, or Israel, or Middle Eastern peace for major Jewish organizations to be unreflective of this wide diversity of opinion within American Jewry, or for them to give airtime to Netanyahu on Iran rather than Obama.
The alternative to this deal, as Obama said, is war. Why? Because sanctions on Iran will fall apart as Russia and China conclude the United States is not serious about a compromise with Tehran that increases the distance between Iran and a bomb, ring-fences its nuclear program and subjects it to intense international inspection. Centrifuges, slashed in number by America’s diplomacy, will increase again, as will Iran’s uranium stockpile. The war drumbeat will resume. Folly will loom.
Rather than listen to Netanyahu, American Jews should listen to the longest-serving Jewish member of the House, Sander M. Levin, who supports the agreement because it is “the best way to achieve” the goal of preventing Iran from advancing toward a nuclear weapon, making the Middle East and Israel “far more secure.” They should note that five Jewish senators have come out in favor.
In the real world, this is the best achievable deal for America and the ally, Israel, it would never forsake.
Roger Cohen writes for The New York Times.