As he signed off a July 17 conference call on Iran sponsored by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) vowed, “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon it will not have my name on it.”
But as of July 27, his press secretary, Steven Sandberg, told NJ Jewish News that Menendez “has not made his mind up” on how he will vote on the agreement intended to halt Iranian nuclear weapons development in exchange for removing tough sanctions against it.
“He is still in the process of reading through, analyzing, and asking serious questions he wants answered. He is doing due diligence on the deal,” Sandberg said.
Congress has until mid-September to decide whether or not to approve the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached between Iran and six major powers on July 14. With most Republicans opposing the deal, and two-thirds majorities needed in both chambers to override a presidential veto and kill the deal, intense scrutiny is being focused on the four senators from New York and New Jersey, all Democrats.
In an exchange with reporters in Union on July 27, NJ Sen. Cory Booker said he is also contemplating the agreement.
“Right now I’m doing my deep dive of an analysis. I have a lot of things that make me skeptical, that I’m very concerned about, but this is going to be something that is going to take thoughtful and deliberative focus,” said Booker. “I’ve already sat in classified briefings, I’ve sat with some of the president’s cabinet members to study this deal — to talk with people on both sides of this issue and to come to a conclusion.”
In a July 24 television ad for his Republican presidential campaign, NJ Gov. Chris Christie spoke bluntly in opposition. “President Obama gave away the store to the Iranians, to a group of people who since 1979 have been chanting, ‘Death to America,’” he said.
Not surprisingly, Republican members of NJ’s House delegation are also standing firmly in opposition.
In a message to constituents shortly after the agreement was announced, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11) said, “The deal appears to be a major victory for Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and a regime with American blood on its hands.”
On July 21, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5) issued a press release saying, “With this deal, a timetable is set where Iran can organize, increase military capabilities, raise funds, and prepare for deadlines where they will be able to acquire ballistic weapons and continue their nuclear proliferation. This could create a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and further destabilize an increasingly volatile region.”
On the eve of a July 28 “telephone town meeting” with constituents, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) said in a statement that the administration should have given Congress an opportunity to review the agreement before obtaining the United Nations Security Council’s approval.
Lance said the Security Council’s unanimous resolution in support of the deal on July 20 undermined the president’s “promise to give the American people, through their elected representatives, ample time to scrutinize and review the deal before it moved forward.”
In a separate statement, Lance said the proposed deal “awards Iran billions of U.S. dollars in sanctions relief without ensuring the permanent dismantling of its existing nuclear infrastructure or the promise of ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections.”
Balance or advocacy?
Like many Democrats caught between supporting Obama and hearing divergent voices of their constituents, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Dist. 12) took a more balanced view.
“I am encouraged by the administration’s efforts to use diplomacy to reach an agreement that has the potential to create a lasting peace and disarm one of the world’s most concerning actors,” she said in a July 24 e-mail to NJJN. “While this deal gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the Middle East, we cannot consider it lightly, nor should we rush to approve it. I will not support any deal unless it lives up to the high standard necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
In an e-mail to NJJN, Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-Dist. 10) wrote, “I have consistently supported diplomacy over military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. I thank the U.S. officials who worked tirelessly to reach this historic agreement. Congress must now carefully review the agreement to ensure it includes the components necessary to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.”
In a July 14 press release, Rep. Albio Sires (D-Dist. 8) said he was “deeply skeptical” that the proposed agreement will actually prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“Iran has spent decades evading international sanctions, promoting terror in the region, and violently oppressing its own people,” said Sires. “Any proposed deal with Iran must include the most intrusive inspections regime to verify that Iran is compliant with the agreement and unable to flout the parameters undetected.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has called on local supporters to urge their lawmakers to block the deal. The lobbying group’s campaign will also include TV ads by a new AIPAC-backed nonprofit dedicated to killing the deal, calls and e-mails by activists to their congressional representatives, and attendance at town hall meetings during the August congressional recess.
According to a poll by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Jewish Americans are much likelier than non-Jews to back the Iran nuclear deal. The poll published July 23 shows that 49 percent of Jewish Americans support the deal while 31 percent oppose it. Among all Americans, 28 percent back the agreement and 24 percent oppose it.
The Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ posted on its blog an explanation of what it will be doing during the 60-day review. The post expresses its “apprehension” about the deal and its opposition to lifting sanctions “until compliance is proven and long-term sustainable commitments are kept.”
The CRC is still forming its position on the deal, but said it would “express our views to members of Congress and encourage community members to do the same — whether they support or oppose the deal — while at the same time underscoring that Israel’s concerns are real, legitimate, expressed by the ruling coalition and the opposition, and important.”
CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick said the federation is putting together a series of conference calls with experts on the issue as it weighs its next steps. The CRC is also preparing a resource page for the federation website (jfedgmw.org).
“We are working hard to educate the community, to understand the details of the deal, and to vet the positions of the federation’s leaders to see how we would like to respond, noting that there are different positions in the community,” said Gorelick.
One local supporter of the deal is Gideon Aronoff of South Orange, the CEO of Ameinu, the former Labor Zionist Alliance. In an op-ed he cowrote for the Boston Globe, Aronoff argued that the deal “provides over a decade of delay in Iran’s nuclear program and will extend the breakout time to produce a bomb to at least a year, far longer than the current two to three months.”
He urged opponents to focus not on killing the deal but on what the United States and Israel “can do together to ensure Iranian compliance with its obligations under the agreement, what can be done if they do not comply, and how best to jointly oppose bad behavior in the region on the part of Iran.”
Tehran-born Jim Daniels of Short Hills is among those who adamantly reject the deal.
“Instead of just, fair, and balanced discussion, the Jewish community should be planning advocacy sessions for lobbying strongly to overturn the deal,” he told NJJN. “To me this is a last-ditch effort. If we care for the survival of Israel, we should act as a community.”
Daniels, who has been active on the Iran issue for years with the CRC and other organizations, emphasized that he was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of any organization.
He said he was unconcerned by suggestions that a no-vote would undercut the effectiveness of American foreign policy for years to come.
“I hope it does pull the rug out from under the Obama administration,” he said. “I have gone far beyond giving him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to roll over and play dead.”