American Jews are slugging it out over Iran. In every Jewish organization, the pros and cons of the Iran issue are being furiously debated. I recently spoke to an American Jewish activist who said that she dreaded going to her usual meetings because she could barely get past “hello” without finding herself in an argument over Iran.
According to an LA Jewish Journal Survey, 49 percent of American Jews support the Iran deal while 31 percent oppose it. As the survey notes, liberals (Jewish or not) support the deal far more than conservatives (Jewish or not), and there are more Jewish liberals than Jewish conservatives.
While these are pretty conclusive numbers, the situation in Jewish organizations is a bit different. There, the percentage of liberals and conservatives is closer to equal. In addition, whether liberal or conservative, Jews involved in the community have the highest levels of commitment to Israel and therefore are most sensitive to what I call the “instinct” factors in the Iran debate.
The “instinct” factors are the two immediate, visceral reactions elicited by the agreement.
The first is the sense that the deal has many holes and should have been better negotiated. And the second is the profound revulsion that Jews feel for Iran, a bad actor of monstrous proportions that will gain money and legitimacy while continuing to support terror and subversion throughout the Middle East.
I felt these instincts kick in when the deal was signed. Strengthened by messages from my Israeli friends, almost all of them political moderates who oppose the agreement, my initial reaction was the same as AIPAC’s: The only option is to kill the deal.
But then I read the agreement and surveyed the political realities. I also talked to American Jews whose opinions I trust. While their initial instincts had been the same as mine, I found many of them slowly shifting, and I found myself shifting with them.
What accounts for this is the pragmatic mindset of American Jews. We are a practical, realistic bunch of people. We have built influence and defended Israel through strategic thinking and careful weighing of risks. We are not governed by our frustrations. We avoid partisan sinkholes, and we do our best to maintain broad consensus.
And we now see that trying to kill the deal is a mistake for many reasons.
▪ First, we are almost certain to lose, and losing has a price. AIPAC and others have argued that waging even a losing battle will ultimately benefit Israel by highlighting the risks of the deal. But losing a battle at this critical political moment will demonstrate weakness.
And the more ferocious the battle we wage, the greater the loss we sustain. It is always a mistake for the Jewish community to appear weak, especially now when Israel’s needs are so great.
▪ Second, the political calculations of those trying to kill the deal are comically out of whack. For example, there is endless talk about persuading Sen. Charles Schumer of New York to oppose the agreement. Seriously? The chances that Schumer will oppose the deal are zero. Schumer has spent his entire career working to become the Democratic leader of the Senate, and his dream is 18 months away from fulfillment. He will not jeopardize it by voting against a Democratic president and the certain Democratic nominee for president in 2016. Instead, he will agonize in public, express admiration for AIPAC, vote for the deal and then write an op-ed for the New York Times explaining how tortuous the experience was.
▪ Third, the fundamental premise of the lobbying campaign is wrong. The entire lobbying effort is built on the conviction that when the deal is rejected, American sanctions will continue to squeeze, even if other countries drop their sanctions. Eventually, the theory goes, Iran will have no choice but to agree to new talks, which our allies will then join.
Absent this premise, the rationale for the entire advocacy effort collapses. And there will be no new talks. The Obama administration is not right about everything, but it is right about this. Not a single country in the world supports new talks, including our European allies and Israel’s few remaining friends. And American sanctions alone will be ineffectual. Even the Republicans understand this. In a statement to the Weekly Standard, Jeb Bush affirmed his opposition to the Iran deal while acknowledging that the impact of American sanctions, without support from our allies, would be “limited.”
I have nothing but respect for the AIPAC leaders arriving in Washington this week to lobby against the agreement. Still, I have moved from a “kill the deal” position to the opposite: It is better for Israel to cooperate with the administration in order to limit the damage, receive compensation and avoid ongoing confrontation that will make things worse.
And what of my Israeli friends who oppose the agreement? The problem is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to insist that the deal can be replaced by a better deal. But let’s assume that Israelis were given a choice between two options:
A. No Iran deal, Iran relieved of almost all sanctions and free to operate its nuclear program without constraints, increased diplomatic isolation for Israel and continued political tension with the United States.
B. The Iran deal, supervision of Iran’s nuclear program for 10-15 years, close cooperation with the United States, a side agreement with America to assure diplomatic backing and military and financial support for Israel, and significant improvement of Israel’s position in the international community.
Given these choices, I believe that almost all of my Israeli friends would choose B. And given these choices, American Jews need to ask Congress to approve the deal and provide Israel with the support she requires.