Even as she recognized a broad diversity of views on the Iranian nuclear agreement inside the local Jewish community, Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, said an “overwhelming” number of members of the board of trustees voted to oppose the deal.
In a statement from its board of trustees released on Aug. 5 (see sidebar), the federation came out against the nuclear deal with Iran, the latest in a small but growing number of North American federations that are taking firm positions on the issue.
The statement says the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, “does not meet” criteria, advocated by the federation, that would “end Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapons program” and “ensure the safety and security of Israel and the world.”
Although she would not specify how many among the board’s 64 members voted to oppose the deal, Dannin Rosenthal told NJ Jewish News in an Aug. 11 phone interview, “If there hadn’t been overwhelming support, we would not have issued the statement. It was very important to me that we create an atmosphere where board members could feel confident in expressing any point of view. I made it clear that all views were welcomed and encouraged.”
Although no one spoke out in favor of the agreement, she said, “a handful of trustees felt that maybe we shouldn’t issue a statement.”
Asked whether there was a fear that its definitive opposition to the agreement could cost the federation financial losses, she said, “Of course I hope we don’t lose revenues or donors or volunteers, but we created a full and fair process that we can describe to anyone. I know this is a community that cares deeply about Israel, and all views are respected and valued.”
In an op-ed she coauthored with federation executive vice president/CEO Dov Ben-Shimon, Dannin Rosenthal described her conflicted feelings about weighing in (see page 25).
“I was paralyzed because of the enormity of the decision,” she told NJJN. “I wanted to make sure there was time to educate and vet the agreement regardless of outside pressure. It has been excruciating. If this were an easy call, a decision would have been easier to take.”
The statement urges members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to oppose the deal “as it stands,” while asserting that the U.S. government “has the power to strengthen a number of components surrounding the agreement.”
The statement asserts that the agreement “merely” delays Iran’s nuclear program, provides billions of dollars in sanctions relief that could be used to fund terrorism, and allows Iran to pursue a conventional weapons and ballistic missile program.
A sample of other board members showed full support for its decision.
In an e-mail response to NJJN, Elliot Mathias of Livingston, chair of the federation’s Community Relations Committee, said he is “strongly in support of federation’s statement to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran…. Our federation made an important stand on an issue that has far-reaching consequences. As a community, we should be proud of both the decision itself, as well as how the decision was made.”
Carol Simon of Millburn wrote, “This deal does not protect the security of the United States, Israel, or our other allies, in the Middle East or elsewhere…. As members of this community and as trustees of the board, we have an obligation to speak out against this deal in an effort to encourage our government to take further actions to strengthen this deal.”
Pam Brewster of Cranford said, “While I see some merit in the deal as an American citizen, as a Jew I felt it was not good for Israel and hence Jews around the world…. Sure, our board could have taken a neutral tone so as not to offend our constituents, but we came together after debate to make a statement that is consistent with our mission of being an ally with Israel and preserving Jewish life.”
Board member Gary Wingens of Livingston said that the “decision to urge our legislators to vote against the Iran deal was the right statement for our federation. It would be inappropriate for our federation to be silent at this critical juncture.”
Criticism of the board of trustees decision came from some who are active in federation affairs but are not current members of the board.
Pat Sebold, an Essex County freeholder from Livingston, said she has “mixed feelings” about the deal. “I am reading both positions. I would have preferred that the federation stay out of it because not everybody will agree with the federation’s position, and they represent everybody” in the Jewish community.
Gideon Aronoff of South Orange, although not a member of the federation he sits on the board of its CRC. “For people who disagree with the federation’s decision, we still view Iran’s threat of nuclear weapons as a grave danger for the United States and for Israel,” said Aronoff, CEO of Ameinu, a progressive Zionist organization. “I think in Greater MetroWest and the country as a whole, this is an issue that has created disagreement, and consensus organizations like the federation would be better off educating the community but not taking an advocacy position.”
Because she is no longer a board member, Phyllis Bernstein of Westfield said she “was not invited to participate in the conversation. We should have supported the agreement, and the statement disappointed me. I would not have come out with the statement they came out with,” she said.
Bernstein is a member of the executive board of Partners for a Progressive Israel and was recently elected as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress.
“If the deal goes away, we’ll be the only country to have sanctions against Iran and that won’t work,” she said. “Right up front in the deal, in section three of the preamble, it says, ‘Iran reaffirms that under no circumstance will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.’ So you have to take that as part of the agreement, whether you trust it or not.”