Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told some 150 members of New Jersey’s Jewish community that the international nuclear agreement with Iran “ultimately legitimizes Iran as a threshold nuclear state.”
Speaking on a July 17 conference call sponsored by The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, Menendez said, “Iran will be required only to limit and not eliminate its nuclear program while the international community will be required to lift the sanctions. I’m concerned that the agreement does not provide for that threshold that I was looking forward to seeing.”
The conference call also featured Sharon Goldman, Northeast Regional Political Director at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, and David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
This week AIPAC launched a push for Congress to reject the deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
According to the Washington Post, AIPAC is spending between $20 million and $40 million on a new 501 (c) 4 group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, to mobilize opponents of the deal.
“While AIPAC has been very supportive of the diplomatic process…unfortunately what came out of this process is simply not a good enough deal,” Goldman said on the call.
Speaking sharply as the voice of what she called “AIPAC’s position,” Goldman urged her listeners to “stand up and oppose it as well,” saying it had strong support “across the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community. This is not good for us. This is not good for our allies in the region. This is not good for Israel…We are at a moment right now we will never be back in if this is implemented… We can’t simply sit and wait and see how it all plays out. Once this genie is out of the bottle there is no way to put it back,” she argued.
Since the deal was finalized July 14, White House officials have blitzed the Jewish community with phone calls and pro-deal talking points. On July 16, Jewish lawmakers were asked to come to the White House for a briefing.
While Democratic lawmakers are under pressure by the administration to back the deal, Menendez did not hesitate in criticizing it.
Arguing that “Iran has a long history of deception and violating international order,” he said if the agreement is implemented, “we will be in a difficult position of trying to ascertain what where they have been cheating, where they have been proceeding.”
Menendez predicted that once sanctions are lifted and Iran recaptures a good deal of the billions of dollars from international oil sales and trade deals, “we will have an Iran that even while it has been challenged financially, economically, and with falling oil prices, it re-stabilizes Iran as the world’s most significant sponsor of terrorism with Hizbullah in Lebanon and [President Bashir-al] Assad in Syria
“I do not know how that is in the national interest of the United States or our allies, including Israel,” he said.
Major Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Orthodox Union, have made it clear that they are disappointed in the deal, with the ADL saying the deal falls “far short of the President’s objective of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state.”
By contrast, J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby, which has largely backed President Barack Obama in all his Middle East strategies, raised $2 million to stump for the deal even before it was announced and already has unveiled a TV ad in support of it.
Keith Krivitzky, executive director of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ, told NJJN that the call was “exceptionally balanced” despite the absence of a vocal supporter of the deal. “I would tell anyone who says otherwise to listen to the call,” said Krivitzky. (A link is available here.) “AIPAC explicitly does have a position, and its representative is in alignment with the Israeli government and reflects the position of the vast majority of the political world in Israel. Neither Menendez nor Makovsky took a position. Makovsky went out of his way to describe the benefits of this deal, and Menendez raised a lot of questions, saying 'here are the questions we in Congress are going to be asking and looking for.'”
Krivitzky described the federation's role as “educating and engaging.”
“People are on different sides of this issue, or don’t necessarily know what they think about this issue,” he said. “Our best critical value role is to engage and educate about this issue, and the best way is to put out there front and center the issues and encourage people to get educated and take action as they see fit.”
Jonathan Alter, a journalist from Montclair who has studied the pact and participated in the conference call as a listener, called the agreement “the best we are going to get, and it is not as bad as the critics make it out to be.”
In a telephone interview several minutes after the call ended, he told NJJN, “we will need to move forward along the line of making sure Iran knows the consequences of violating the agreement,” which could include the United States bombing Iran. “For Congress to go on record saying that would be useful would be a much better use of its time and energy than trying to stop this deal.”
Alter was scheduled to address the July 17 Shabbat service at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield on “Why Jews Should Like the Iran Deal.”
Alter charged that opponents of the pact “are trying to get to a moral high ground by not being called warmongers, but they are…The only other option is war. We should let the Iranians know should they violate this agreement there will be war.”
Although he said he did not “trust Iran at all,” he argued, “the deal is very specific. It will be much easier to detect their cheating than it has been. We are going to have at their nuclear sites 24/7 inspections. Cameras are going to be all over the place. We have heavy monitoring of the supply chain of uranium and other nuclear materials to see whether any of them are going into the military system. So that whole argument against the deal is entirely fallacious.”
Addressing concerns that the lifting of sanctions will give Iran’s government more means of subsidizing terrorism, Alter said “what Iran is doing with Hizbullah and other bad actors is horrible. My argument is this deal gives the president a freer hand to counter and condemn the Iranian government. He had to tread softly all these years when he was trying to build an international coalition. A lot of these bad actors are also allied with Russia and China. If he had taken steps to call them out on their rhetoric, that would have weakened getting Russia and China to sign on to very tough sanctions.”
“Israel should be supporting this deal strongly,” he said. ”Israel in general has a good sense of its security needs but ironically in the case of existential senses they let their emotions go off and cloud their judgment. When the deal is implemented it presents a huge, huge security victory for Israel.