By Jeffrey F. Barken/JNS.org
The July 14 announcement of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has drawn much public criticism, praise, and punditry—in the Jewish community and beyond—and will continue to do so over the course of the ongoing 60-day period for the U.S. Congress to review the agreement. But which so-called “regular citizens” are taking the time to actually read the deal? (Its full text, by the way, can be accessed here.)
That question is arguably most pressing in the New York City metropolitan area, home to more Jews than any region of its kind nationwide. Not surprisingly, then, the “Big Apple” has been the epicenter of both education and advocacy, including events ranging from discussions to protests, in the weeks since the Iran deal was reached.
“Our government is on the verge of making a terrible mistake,” said Josh Block—president and CEO of The Israel Project (TIP), an organization whose stated mission is “informing the media and public conversation about Israel and the Middle East”—during an educational event hosted at New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue on June 21.
Before Block’s address listed the weaknesses and shortcomings of the Iran deal, a leaflet distributed to attendees by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) listed six consequences of a bad deal with Iran, adding that “Congress must oppose the proposed deal.” According to the leaflet, the deal signed this month in Vienna will: legitimize Iran as a nuclear threshold state; raise the prospect of war; spur a nuclear arms race; increase Iranian support of terrorism; strengthen the Iranian regime; and undermine and threaten regional allies.
Central to those bullets is a concern that the U.S. is abandoning more than 20 years of focused policy initiatives carefully devised to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Similarly, the AIPAC flier asserted that the unprecedented negotiations with Tehran, the infamous state sponsor of terrorism, “call into question America’s global leadership.” Since there is no provision in the deal effectively dismantling Iran’s current nuclear infrastructure, critics argue that American security guarantees to its allies are now defunct. They forecast that the deal’s $150 billion in sanctions relief for Iran will embolden the regime’s terrorist activities and further destabilize the region, and that a nuclear Iran means an existential threat to Israel.
“The talks were extended at every deadline, because desperation cannot be exhausted,” said Block, arguing that Western diplomats were duped by Iran, surrendering their significant advantage in the form of punishing sanctions, and ultimately succumbing to the ambition to make a historic deal at any price.
At the core of Block’s argument lies an assessment that the anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic threats delivered regularly by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Iranian officials should be taken seriously.
“We’re told the ayatollah’s threats are for domestic consumption, but they appear in English on Twitter, and you can’t get Twitter in Iran,” Block said, suggesting that proponents of the nuclear deal see only what they want to see and are too trusting of the Iranians, who should be considered their nemesis.
“War is not the alternative,” Block concluded, refuting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s oft-repeated assertion. “A better deal is.”
Block’s presentation “covered the points that worry all the international community,” Eduardo Torres Núñez, a former advisor to Mexico’s federal legislature, told JNS.org.
“Nonetheless, it was not the space for sharing thoughts or to even hear critics that could define new directions,” he added, lamenting that the program fell short of being a forum for dialogue about the deal.
Indeed, Block only got the chance to entertain three questions from the crowd before a loud group of attendees interrupted decorum, urging members of the audience to join them in a protest against the deal that would take place the next day in New York’s Times Square.
“Now, more than ever, patience is needed for the next months, at least to keep the deal alive,” Núñez said, dismissing the July 22 protest—which would eventually draw an estimated 10,000 participants—as premature and perhaps misguided. Still, he acknowledged that “security is not a game” and is critical of the deal, noting, “Too many concessions were offered. The resilience shown by Iran demonstrates that they are not willing to lose any power.”
At the same time, while Núñez is conscious that the world powers who negotiated the deal are taking many risks, he remains optimistic and has faith in diplomacy.
“Through all the long [negotiating] sessions [with Iran], it seems the U.N. got what it wanted, a calibrated framework and a permanent inspection by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency),” he said. (But rather than being “anytime, anywhere,” inspections of the nuclear program will be accompanied by 24 days of advance notice for Iran, to the dismay of the deal’s critics.)
On the same day as the TIP event, President Barack Obama himself was in New York to defend the nuclear deal on the set of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
“I really want people to pay attention to this issue, learn about it, and then contact your elected representatives and express your opinion,” Obama said. “This is an example of where we have a huge issue of war and peace. Either we stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon through diplomacy or potentially we have a military option. You’ve got a bunch of talking heads and pundits and folks who are not going to be making sacrifices, if in fact you end up in a conflict, who are reprising some of the same positions that we saw during the Iraq war, and not asking tough questions. If they’re not hearing from citizens, then we end up making bad choices.”
Members of Congress, in fact, are sure to continuously hear from their constituents about the Iran deal during the 60-day review period. Particularly in New York, the decision facing the state’s Jewish U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer—seen as a key Democratic vote who could help swing the deal’s fate in either direction in the Senate—has already been the subject of much debate. With 54 Republicans serving in the Senate, 13 Democratic votes against the deal are needed to override Obama’s veto of a potential Congressional rejection of the agreement. For now, the specifics of Schumer’s pulse on the issue are unknown, as are many still-unfolding aspects of the Iran saga.
Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.