Some 340 American rabbis, including 10 from New Jersey, have signed a letter urging Congress to approve the multinational agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear capability.
The letter was submitted to House and Senate members by Ameinu, a New York-based Zionist organization that describes itself as “a strong liberal voice in America promoting a more progressive Israel.”
In Aug. 17 phone interviews, four of the NJ rabbis explained their reasons for supporting the Obama administration deal that is designed to curtail Iranian nuclear development in exchange for lifting the economic sanctions against the country. Congress is scheduled to vote on the deal by Sept. 17.
Rabbi Ruth Gais, leader of Chavurat Lamdeinu in Summit, said, “If the agreement fails, it poses a greater threat to Israel because it shows Israel’s greatest ally cannot function very well.”
Gais told NJJN it was “no surprise to me” that most mainstream Jewish organizations are opposed to the deal. “There is a knee-jerk, not-well-thought-out response to Israel on the part of many, many Jews. I feel extremely depressed about Israel’s politics and behavior.”
The deal “is a good thing for Israel,” said Rabbi Kim Geringer of Short Hills, an adjunct instructor in professional development and rabbinic supervision at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “If I thought the agreement would put Israel in more danger, I would not have signed the letter,” she told NJJN. “Israel’s safety is paramount in my thinking…. [It’s] the single most important factor.”
Geringer said “another strong concern” was that rejection of the deal by Congress would greatly undercut America’s standing in world diplomacy. “I want the United States to be a voice other countries listen to,” she said, “and I am concerned that walking away from this deal will actually make it harder to do that in the future.”
Rabbi Brooks Susman, who retired on Aug. 1 from Congregation Kol Am in Freehold, said, “Without any deal, Iran can almost at will continue its nuclear desires without any supervision from the outside world.”
If Congress fails to support the deal, Susman said, and the United Nations removes sanctions, “Iran will be free to do whatever it wishes to do, and the monies they receive can go straight into supporting jihadis throughout the Middle East….”
As far as Israel is concerned, Susman told NJJN, “Israel is not without its own power and decision-making about what it can and will do about a nuclear threat from an Iranian government.
“I don’t think it will be affected whether the deal passes or fails,” said Susman. “It is the worst-kept secret in the world, but Israel is a nuclear power. Is Israel going to permit a nuclear Iran to continue?” Without the deal, “what will change is the desire for other nations to attain nuclear status because Iran has it.”
Though Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, rabbi emeritus at Temple Emanu-el of Westfield, called the agreement “flawed” and “far from perfect,” he added, “We have to deal with the options that are here now. No deal means continued problems in the U.S.-Israel relationship, and a lot of the blame goes to Israel.”
Opposition to the agreement has come from many organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has been urging lawmakers to vote against the deal to secure the numbers needed to override an expected presidential veto. Among the national Jewish organizations in opposition to the deal are several Jewish federations (including the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ), the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League. The liberal pro-Israel group J Street is in favor.
Asked how he responds to the widespread opposition, Kroloff told NJJN, “There is a certain limited focus, a narrow focus, that is occurring here. Some of the organizations are acting in lockstep with the Israeli government…. They make a lot of great decisions but [are] mistaken here. There are many Israeli security experts and former heads of Shin Bet” — the Israel Security Agency — “who are supportive.”
If Congress votes down the deal, Kroloff said, he agrees that Israel will be in a more dangerous place. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s himself stated that Iran “is one month to three months away” from developing a nuclear weapon “so if the deal doesn’t go through,” said Kroloff, “we can expect that there would be a breakout. I don’t think sanctions will hold up much longer. They are not going to last forever.”
Although he said “it concerns me greatly” that without sanctions Iran would have the wherewithal to increase its funding to terrorist groups, Kroloff said, “That will probably happen anyhow.”
Kroloff predicted: “If Congress votes down the deal it will leave the United states isolated, with far less ability to defend Israel in the international arena.”