The Jewish Community Also Needs to Move On

The Jewish Community Also Needs to Move On

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Not only has the Iran agreement created extensive geopolitical concerns for all the involved parties, but it also has posed major anxieties for Israel, U.S.-Israel relations, and American Jews. To a large extent American Jewish activists, following the direction and political leadership coming from Jerusalem, have mounted a major lobbying campaign to block the agreement from taking effect. Led largely by AIPAC and several ad hoc committees created precisely for this purpose, Jewish leaders launched a massive publicity and lobbying campaign in opposition to the deal. This effort no doubt will reach a crescendo when Congress returns after Labor Day to actually take the first round of key votes on whether to support the President and accept the Iran deal. 

Most objective observers at this time suspect that the deal will go through perhaps even without a presidential veto. What has received little attention —until very recently—from American Jews as well as from the Israeli Government is the consequences of this fight to the historical bi-partisan support for Israel in Congress; the ugliness of the name calling generated especially against those who have supported the deal; the rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric; the charges of dual loyalty which has emerged against those Jews who have opposed the deal; and, crucially, whether indeed the leaders of the American Jewish community even reflect the positions of American Jews. In fact, it is this last point which is this most compelling problem.

Jewish activists suggest they represent the true voice of American Jews. AIPAC leaders—most of whom are not Orthodox or religiously engaged—together with significant segments of the Orthodox community believe they have an accurate understanding of what is good for American Jews and for Israel. The problem is that these leaders, activists, and Orthodox Jews do not really represent American Jews.  The Conference of Presidents has not taken a position because there are truly, legitimate differences of opinions among their constituent organizations. The Reform movement, which represents a far larger percentage of American Jews than any other group, has not taken a position for the same reason.

What is truly ugly about this internal debate within the Jewish community is the total lack of respect for differences. American Jews will undoubtedly have very serious fights to wage in the future both at home and abroad, but the absence of a civil conversation in this debate suggests that it will take a considerable time to repair the damage that this deal has produced. In Israel, there are dissenting voices to the deal from defense and intelligence experts as well as scholars; but except on the extremes no one is questioning anyone’s commitment to the safety of Israel. This is not the case in the U.S. name calling.

On a political level the damage may take even longer to mend. There never was any distance among supporters for Israel within mainstream American politics. What Netanyahu has done in his relationship with the Obama Administration is to undermine the wall-to-wall support for Israel by making opposition to the Iran deal a partisan issue. Those of his supporters in the U.S suggest that after the battle is over, the fact that Netanyahu conducted such a confrontational approach with the U.S. will enable Israel to emerge stronger in obtaining U.S. military and strategic support than by conceding even now that their fight is lost. This is permitting arrogance to trump political savvy and is a very dangerous card to play given the seriousness of the issue—now and for the future.  

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