The international effort to prevent a nuclear Iran has become, in the country leading that effort, a clash over intentions and tactics. Under the plan brokered by the Obama administration and five other world powers, Iran will freeze most of its nuclear enrichment capability and allow new and more frequent inspections of its nuclear sites. In return, the world powers will provide Iran with some economic sanctions relief until a more permanent deal is reached.
Meanwhile, a sizable number of U.S. senators, including New Jersey’s own Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, are backing a bill that would tighten sanctions on Iran if negotiations break down. Proponents of the “Kirk-Menendez” bill insist it would strengthen America’s hand in negotiations because it is sanctions that brought Iran around in the first place. The administration and its allies in Congress counter that Iran has only accepted restrictions on its nuclear program because it seeks economic relief, and that the bill would undermine negotiations by signaling to Iranian hardliners that Iran gains nothing from its concessions other than the stick of additional sanctions.
Friends of Israel can be found on both sides of the debate. While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee “strongly” supports the Senate bill, according to a spokesman, Jewish lawmakers like Carl Levin of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California, and Ron Wyden of Michigan oppose it. But the discussion has taken a disturbing turn in which outside critics of the bill call it a creation of the “Jewish lobby” and suggest its backers, in thrall to “deep-pocketed Jewish donors,” are willing to undermine the administration’s foreign policy. In perhaps the most egregious mainstream example, Britain’s Economist published a foul cartoon showing president Obama “shackled” to a Congressional shield emblazoned with a star of David. In denouncing the cartoon, the Anti-Defamation League noted that it was a “visual representation of the age-old anti-Semitic canard of Jewish control.”
The administration and backers of the Kirk-Menendez bill share a goal: a nuclear-free Iran. They differ strongly on how to get there. Rather than arguing their positions on the merits, as we all should, some observers prefer to traffic in bigoted conspiracy theories (or, just as perversely, tag the administration with inappropriate “Munich” comparisons, or label the bill’s advocates “war-mongers”). The only winner in this public spectacle is Iran, which no doubt enjoys seeing its “Zionist enemy” — rather than its mad dash for regional domination — thrust into the center of the story.