The stakes are enormously high in the debate over the Iran nuclear arms deal — and as a result, so is the temptation toward hyperbolic and irresponsible rhetoric, from all sides.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee showed the dangers of unchecked outrage when he suggested that in brokering the Iran deal, President Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt was one of the many Jewish leaders and observers troubled by his analogy, saying such remarks “ultimately cheapen the memory of the Holocaust.” Added Lipstadt: “The Final Solution, the Third Reich’s name for the planned annihilation of European Jewry, should not be used as a political tool, by any side. Oppose the policy but don’t use this tragedy as a vehicle for doing so.”
Others have accused the White House of “Jew-baiting” in its defense of the nuclear deal, even when it is merely factual that the pro-Israel community — represented by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — and Israel itself are among the fiercest opponents of the deal. One paranoid commentator even interpreted the parole of Jonathan Pollard not as a gesture to Israelis and Jews aggrieved by the Iran deal, but as a “dog whistle” meant to remind the public of the notorious “dual loyalty” charge against Jews.
The White House too has overstepped. When Secretary of State John Kerry said its opposition to the deal would put Israel at risk of being “more isolated and more blamed,” his words came out as a threat. Tempers are high in Washington, but Israel still deserves the respect owing an ally with legitimate concerns about an issue it feels is no less than existential.
The attacks and counterattacks are only likely to get more heated, especially within a divided Jewish community, as Congress completes its review of the deal. It should be possible, however, to conduct this debate with respect and dignity. Opponents and supporters of the deal should agree that both sides care about the same things: an Iran without nukes, an Israel that feels secure, and a world that doesn’t fear the long arm of Islamist extremism. Iran’s leaders would like nothing better than to see Israel and America at odds and a Jewish community torn apart by infighting. Don’t give them the satisfaction.