Malcolm Hoenlein doubts a deal reached by the United States and its P5+1 partners would halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
“The only thing the Iranians understand is strength,” said Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in an April 26 talk in Edison.
Hoenlein told the almost 400 people gathered at Congregation Ohr Torah that the Iranians can’t be trusted to follow the pact, under which the country would reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent and significantly scale back its number of installed centrifuges. In exchange, the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) would lift sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
Hoenlein said he reads the Iranian newspapers every day. “They’re saying they beat the Americans,” he said, adding that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is mocking the Europeans.
He spoke at a program cosponsored by Ohr Torah and the Orthodox Forum of Edison/Highland Park. The Presidents Conference, an umbrella for 52 national Jewish agencies, represents their consensual positions in dealings with the executive branch.
Hoenlein said he has made his beliefs clear in meetings with President Barack Obama, although he would not divulge the president’s response, which he said was private. Hoenlein believes the president sees the deal as a “Nixon-China moment” and wants his presidency to be remembered for opening up relations with Havana and Tehran.
“I think [Obama] honestly believes a deal with Iran will make the Middle East safer,” said Hoenlein. “I do believe the president wants a deal and is willing to make concessions he might not otherwise make and he honestly believes he can control it.”
However, he warned that if Iran violates a deal, it could touch off an arms race in the region where “every country in the Middle East will get [nuclear] weapons.”
Hoenlein said the option of military force should never be taken off the table.
In meetings two weeks earlier in Vienna, Hoenlein said, officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged they had neither the technology nor ability to fully monitor Iranian compliance.
‘We pray for Israel’
During the program, Hoenlein also touched on the growing threat of anti-Semitism in Europe and radical Islam there and in the Middle East.
He cited the importance of backing legislators who support Israel and issues of importance to the Jewish community. Hoenlein received the most resounding applause of his talk when he called Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is currently under indictment on federal corruption charges, “a true hero of the Jewish people who deserves our loyalty and support through his troubles.”
With the Arab Spring rapidly disintegrating into warfare and disillusionment, Israel’s position is even more precarious. At the same time, Hoenlein said, other Arab nations are looking to Israel as a buffer against Iranian-backed radicalism that is a threat to many governments.
Hoenlein noted he had visited almost every Arab country in the last two years and heard their leaders say, “We pray for Israel,” although they can’t admit it publicly.
Israel, he said, is unfairly maligned by the UN and others for human rights abuses against Palestinians. In other countries, however, “thousands of Christians are being killed and massacred and there’s been no reaction, no outcry,” he said.
The good news is that Israel is thriving, with a growing population, a robust economy, and legions of tourists, including numerous visitors from China and Japan.
Hoenlein said successful pro-Israel campaigns, including outreach efforts to Hollywood stars and Hispanics, have rallied supporters to its defense.
Hoenlein said it is vital that the American-Jewish community not let Israel become a polarizing issue, and educate young people to stand up to anti-Israel sentiment on campus.