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What’s behind The American Jewish Divide on the Iran Nuclear Deal?

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Council of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations (CPMAJO) Pres. Stephen M. Greenblatt, Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein with Secretary of State John Kerry , Manhattan, July 24, 2015. Source: CPMAJO and Times of Israel

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry flew up to New York to brief  skeptical leaders of major American Jewish organizations on the Administration-backed Iran Nuclear Agreement announced on July 14th. This followed Thursday’s presentation before a truculent Senate Foreign Relations Committee Iran nuclear  review with Kerry, Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. A provocative question by Senate panel member, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, prompted Kerry to issue a warning to Israel not to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Kerry was also caught touting J Street propaganda suggesting that former Israeli security officials from Shin Bet and Mossad considered it a good deal. As reflected in a Times of Israel (TOI) report on Kerry’s briefings, American Jewish leaders expressed concerns about his inability to answer their questions.

However, a poll released Thursday by the Los-Angeles based Jewish Journal  suggested that virtually half of American Jews backed Obama on the Iran nuclear deal in contrast to less than 28 percent of  all Americans. Thus, confirming the deepening American Jewish divide over support for Israel discussed at length in Ambassador Michael Oren’s memoir, Ally. The TOI article on the Manhattan briefings by Kerry to American Jewish leaders noted the results of the Jewish Journal– sponsored survey:

According to the [Jewish Journal] survey, 49 percent of American Jews support the deal and 31 percent oppose it. Among all Americans, 28 percent support the deal and 24 percent oppose it.

Jewish Journal survey of American Jews on Iran nuclear deal

L.A. Jewish Journal survey of American Jews on Iran nuclear deal, July 23, 2015.

The Times of Israel reported comments from participants in the briefings by Kerry:

Among the issues raised were reports of provisions to shorten the embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles and secret accords dealing with inspections at Iran’s Parchin military base and the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s past nuclear activities.

“It was a very interesting exchange,” one attendee told the Times of Israel. “We spoke rather frankly and he gave his assessment. Some of the things we agree with and some of the things people disagreed with, but that is the nature of this debate.”

“People remained concerned. He filled in some blanks and on some issues people still feel quite differently,” the attendee added. “Whether you agree with his answers or not, it was an important exchange.”

The meeting with Conference of Presidents involved more than 100 participants from a wide range of Jewish groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), incoming Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Jonathan Greenblatt, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel, and representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America. AIPAC is vehemently opposed to the agreement. It has launched a massive lobbying campaign in a bid to see it stonewalled by Congress, which is currently reviewing the terms of the deal.

Let’s look at the nuances of the Jewish Journal Iranian nuclear deal survey findings:

The LA Jewish Journal Survey asked respondents’ views on “an agreement … reached in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.” Almost half – 49 percent of American Jews – voiced support, and 31 percent opposed. Jews differ from the national population. Of all respondents in our national survey, only 28 percent support the deal, 24 percent oppose and the rest (48 percent) “don’t know enough to say.”

[…]

As a group, Jews hold these supportive views of the agreement, notwithstanding their mixed views regarding its outcomes. Asked whether “this agreement would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons over the next 10 years or so,” only 42 percent are somewhat confident or very confident, while 54 percent are not so confident or not confident at all. A slim plurality believes the agreement will lead to more rather than less stability in the Middle East (46 percent versus 41 percent), but a wider margin believes the deal will make Israel more endangered (49 percent) rather than safer (33 percent), almost the same as in the U.S. survey (48 percent versus 32 percent respectively).

But even with their misgivings, Jews overwhelmingly think that, in retrospect, the idea of the U.S. conducting negotiations with Iran was a good one (59 percent) rather than a bad one (19 percent).

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Shoshana Bryen, The Jewish Policy Center

Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Policy Center in our 1330amWEBY interview in a forthcoming August 2015 New English Review article commented about the American Jewish divide:

In the Jewish community there is an element that believes any deal is better than no deal. The President said, “Please think of the alternative to this deal.  Think of it,” he said. Clearly, he was leaning in the direction that without the deal, there is war.  There is a group of people in the Jewish community that thinks you must do anything you can, to prevent war.  Anything, everything.  If you give up sanctions and accept demands its okay, because you’re not having war. There’s another group of people in the Jewish community, that says, if you give up everything, you’re going to end up with war anyway, but from a less advantageous position.

Ted Belman of the Jerusalem based blog Israpundit was “shocked” by the L.A. Jewish Journal survey findings pointing to the Shmuel Rosner Journal article, The growing divide between Jewish Americans and Jewish Israelis

Rosner opined:

The Jews of Israel oppose the agreement with Iran. The Jews of America support it. The just-released LA Jewish Journal survey turns an assumption into a fact: The two largest Jewish communities cannot agree on a major world development that could significantly change the state of the Jewish state.

Israel will discover today — much to many Israelis’ surprise (because they don’t much understand American Jews) — that it cannot count on the majority of American Jewry to fight the battle against the agreement alongside it. A majority of American Jews will discover today that amid all the noise made by opponents of the deal, not much has changed for them as a group: They support President Barack Obama; they vote Democratic; they approve of the agreement. American Jews are just like Americans, as sociologist Steven Cohen, who oversaw the survey, writes: They are all skeptical about the deal, but their politics dictate the way they ultimately see it.

My response to Belman was The Jewish Journal publishers hew to a reform movement precept-to repair the world. Shmuel Rosner is a left-wing Israeli journalist who made career of viewing American Jews through that lens including opposition to Bibi and the settler movement. If you look at who consulted on this survey – the West Coast Reform seminary of UAHC- there are likely two biases in both framing questions and population sampling. The first is support for J Street among the reform movement leadership and seminary academics. There are 600 members of the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet largely drawn from the Reform movement pulpits in the U.S.  The second is the liberal reform readership of theJewish Journal editions across the U.S.  Increasingly, it seems liberal Jews view Israel as alien to their assimilationist values. That meme comes through in Michael Oren’s memoir.Ally.

Essentially, the Reform movement in the U.S. has returned to its traditional pre WWII anti- Zionist roots.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Kerry: U.S. Obligated to Prevent Israeli Sabotage of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Armin Rosen in a Business Insider article wrote about Florida’s US Senator Marco Rubio’s provocative question that generated a troubling response from Secretary Kerry at yesterday’s testy Senate Foreign Relations Hearing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program. It had to do with the dilemma facing the Administration about a commitment by the world powers to defend the Iranian nuclear program against attack.

Rubio raised the hypothetical of what would be the U.S. obligation under a provision found in an Annex III to the agreement, if Israel might undertake a possible cyber attack.  An attack akin to the malworm, Stuxnet that disabled Iran’s enrichment centrifuges temporarily setting back their nuclear program.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questions U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (not pictured) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington July 23, 2015.   REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing July 23, 2015. Source:  Reuters-Gary Cameron.

The Business Insider article laid out the quandary:

Republican presidential candidate and US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) asked about a provision of the agreement that seems to obligate the US and its negotiating partners to help protect Iranian nuclear sites against potential outside attack.

According to Annex III, the agreement’s section on “civil nuclear cooperation,” the signatories commit to “co-operation through training and workshops to strengthen Iran’s ability to protect against, and respond to nuclear security threats, including sabotage, as well as to enable effective and sustainable nuclear security and physical protection systems.

This provision of the deal doesn’t mention any countries by name. But Rubio wondered if this was included in the deal because of Iranian concerns related to a specific US ally.

“If Israel decides it doesn’t like this deal and it wants to sabotage an Iranian nuke program or facility, does this deal that we have just signed obligate us to help Iran defend itself against Israeli sabotage or for that matter the sabotage of any other country in the world?” Rubio asked.

[Secretary of Energy] Moniz replied that “all of our options and those of our allies and friends would remain in place” after the deal goes into effect.

Kerry then jumped in to explain the provision’s specific purpose: “To be able to have longer-term guarantees as we enter a world in which cyberwarfare is increasingly a concern for everybody that if you are going to have a nuclear capacity, you clearly want to be able to make sure that those are adequately protected.”

Rubio posed the key question to Kerry:

If Israel conducts a cyber attack against the Iranian nuclear program are we obligated to help them defend themselves against an Israel cyber attack?

Kerry responded:

I don’t see any way possible that we would be in conflict with Israel with respect to what we might want to do there and we just have to wait until we get until that point,” Kerry said, cryptically — “that point” referring to a future time at which Israel believes it’s necessary to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. It seems that at that juncture, the US would have to determine whose side to take.

The background of this troubling JCPOA provision was explored in our July 14, 2015 1330 amWEBY interview with Omri Ceren of The Israel Project and Shoshana Bryen of The Jewish Policy Center to be published as an article in the August edition of the New English Review.

Note this exchange between Mike Bates of WEBY and Bryen:

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Shoshana Bryen of The Jewish Policy Center.

Bates:  Shoshana.  Because with a deal in place, Iran will be free to covertly develop nuclear weapons without consequence.  …However, if the day comes when Israel has valid reasons to believe that a nuclear weapon is in the hands of the Iranians, or is imminently so, Israel is going to have no choice but to act unilaterally.  When they do, they will be excoriated and vilified.  … I think this makes it more dangerous, because the military option, as I see it, Shoshana, is off the table.

 Bryen:  I’m not sure it wasn’t always off the table.  Starting in the Bush Administration,the United States and Israel had a divergence of opinion about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. The Bush administration was in favor of sanctions and believed in squeezing them to death.  They were not in favor of military activity.   The Israelis always had believed that military action was best done in conjunction with the United States. Once they began to understand that there was no way, that even their good friend George W. Bush was not going to help them do this.   The military option became less viable.  You have to think about it from the point of view of a small country, Israel, and a large country, Iran, which has air defenses. Iran will now have better air defenses, because the Russians have sold them better air defenses.  The Iranians had more time to bury and harden their facilities.  They’ve had more time to dig them under populated places.  If you have to drop a bomb on something, the collateral damage there will be very heavy. I’m not sure that there was a great military option, to begin with.  However, you are right to the extent that if there was a facility you felt was absolutely crucial, I believe Israel could destroy it.

Omri Ceren

Omri Ceren, The Israel Project.

Note the following exchange between Bates and Ceren:

Bates:   I’m more concerned about the 8 million people living in Israel; the 300 millionpeople in the United States.  I’m concerned that Iran has been given a pathway to a bomb that is unobstructed.  This takes the military option off the table.  Even if Israel believes their existential threat is imminent, they can hardly attack militarily to stop it.  …I think the concessions are so much bigger than that.  Am I wrong, Omri?

Ceren:  Let me say that Shoshana’s answer was very compelling…Which is the military option was never Israel’s main option.  Sabotage and subterfuge were Israel’s real options, which is why it is so concerning that this deal puts the Iranian nuclear program under international sponsorship.There is an annex to the deal that says the EU-3 and their partners will teach them how to harden their nuclear assets against sabotage.  Specifically, against nuclear sabotage. In effect we’re protecting them,as they build up their program.  Forget protecting them in the last five minutes from Israeli action.  Thisdeal protects them from Israeli action throughout the entire lifetime of the deal

These exchanges between Senator Rubio and Secretary Kerry at yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Hearing and the excerpted WEBY interview exchanges with both Bryen and Ceren in the forthcoming New English Review article demonstrate how the JCPOA constrains both the US and Israel’s options to deal with the Iran nuclear threat. All due to the concessions made by Kerry and the negotiating team at both Lausanne and in Vienna. It explains why the Republican majority in both Houses of Congress and even some minority Democrats oppose the nuclear pact with Iran. Further, why Israel PM Netanyahu called the Nuclear pact with Iran a very bad deal in his speech on March 3,2015 before a Joint Meeting of Congress. We commend Republican Senator Rubio for asking the tough question that forced Secretary Kerry’s verification of how bad this deal is.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Secretary of State Kerry with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and Energy Secretary Moniz, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, July 23, 2015. Source: AP/Andrew Harnik.

Obama: Opening the Pandora’s Box of Nuclear Proliferation?

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, former Ambassador to the U.S., was a target of a failed bombing plot by the Iran’s Quds force at a Washington restaurant. He was at the State Department yesterday in preparation for a meeting with President Obama today regarding the Kingdom’s concerns about the announced nuclear pact with Iran.

The White House committed a faux pas on announcement of the Iran nuclear deal when it first suggested that the Quds force commander, General Qassem Suleymani, was not on a list of 700 Iranians whose travel bans and asset restrictions were lifted. General Suleymani had been deemed responsible for hundreds of U.S. Service personnel casualties during the Iraq War and now is involved with advising Iraqi Shiite militias fighting ISIS.  The Iran FARS news agency and ABC News both confirmed that the legendary head of the Quds Force was indeed on the list. We trust that President Obama will apologize when he meets with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir today. A Wall Street Journal report set the stage for today’s meeting:

Saudi Arabia is the largest of the Arab states that have been deeply skeptical of Mr. Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran.

The Saudis have been deeply worried about the Iran agreement; both because of fears it won’t stop the Iranian nuclear program and because of broader concerns that it will allow Iran to grow as a regional power when it receives the financial windfall from the end of sanctions under the accord.

The Sunni Saudi government already is locked in a proxy battle with Iranian allies in neighboring Yemen. The Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran Yemen’s capital earlier this year and were targeted by a Saudi airstrike campaign backed by the U.S. In addition, Shiite-led Iran is the most important backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; Saudi Arabia is committed to his removal.

However, there is the overarching issue of Saudi Arabia and other Middle East Sunni countries opting to secure their own nuclear infrastructure and weapons.  A  WSJ  op ed in today’s edition  by Karen Elliot House, former publisher and Pulitzer Prize winner for her coverage of the Middle East, addressed what many observers belief is a potential nuclear Pandora’s Box, “Obama Pours Gas on the Mideast Fire”:

The short subdued statement this week by Riyadh’s embassy in Washington again calling for “strict sustainable” inspections speaks volumes about the kingdom’s precarious position and the lack of good options.

[…]

A final option open to the Saudis: Get a nuclear weapon as soon as possible. Prince Turki al Faisal, the kingdom’s former head of intelligence vowed in the spring that “whatever the Iranians have, we will have.”

[…]

The nuclear deal with Iran will stoke more Sunni-Shiite violence, and the Saudis may go shopping for nukes.

On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, a Middle East Roundtable discussion was convened by Northwest Florida’s Talk Radio 1330 AM WEBY’s co-hosts  of “Your Turn,” Mike Bates and this writer. Our panelists were Omri Ceren, Managing Director for Press and Strategy of The Israel Project (TIP) and Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.  Bryen was calling in from Washington, D.C.  Ceren was calling in from Vienna, Austria where he had spent 19 days working with journalists covering the final deliberations of the nuclear pact with Iran. Ceren had also been in Lausanne, Switzerland covering the April 2nd announcement of a framework for a final JPOA.  The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming August 2015 New English Review article on the Iran nuclear agreement based on the radio panel discussion. This excerpt reveals the dangers that could result should nuclear proliferation spread in the Middle East, beginning with Saudi Arabia. The arguments presented here are the opinions of Ceren and not necessarily those of TIP.

Omri Ceren(1)

Omri Ceren, Managing Director at the Israel Project.

Jerry Gordon:   What is the risk in this region that non-proliferation ends and the opposite occurs?  Is this the opening of a Pandora’s Box?

Omri Ceren:  Not just the obvious, but the well nigh undeniable. We talked earlier of what a lot is dangerous about this Administration’s communications with American lawmakers and the American public is that they just don’t tell the truth.  They make excuses for Iranian cheating. But another aspect that has been widely remarked upon is they say insulting things in order to defend their policies. One great example is their answers to the potential that Saudi Arabia will respond to a bad deal by going nuclear.  Let’s be clear, Saudi Arabia will respond to a bad deal by going nuclear. They have not been bashful and have told us in as many words that they will not wait to gain their own nuclear capabilities till the Iranians get a nuclear bomb. They’ve said that they will respond with their own infrastructure when they believe that it is now inevitable that they will get a nuclear bomb.  And they have said that this deal makes it inevitable that Iran gets its nuclear bomb, which is correct. You then have these very clear declarations from a traditional American ally that sits in the center of the world’s energy markets that they intend to go nuclear in response to this deal. If they go nuclear then the entire deal is trashed because there is no chance that the Iranian military will permit the Sunnis to get a bomb without their having a nuclear bomb.  They will respond by backing out of the deal. Now obviously this is a worst case scenario for the White House.  Yesterday, you were in a world where you had no deal and no Iranian bomb. Now you have a deal and you may have an Iranian bomb. What have been their responses? I don’t want to overemphasize this but it is difficult not notice that we have a scenario that will trash everything that the Administration has hoped to create, all costs and no benefits.  What is their answer? They say two things about the Saudis. One is that the Saudis lack the resources  to go nuclear which is insane given the example of North Korea and given what we know about Saudi Arabia’s GDP and how they allocate their resources. The second is what one of the top hands at the NSC wrote in a pamphlet was that the Saudis will never go nuclear because they are afraid of an international oil embargo. I’m sorry but that is not a sophisticated argument. The entire success of the deal and the potential that the deal will fail could leave an entire nuclear Middle East in its wake.

RELATED ARTICLE: UN Set to Adopt Iran Nuke Deal Monday in Obama Blitzkrieg

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.