By Dexter Van Zile/JNS.org
Earlier this month, Ben Rhodes, a national security official in the Obama administration, admitted in a New York Times profile that he used non-governmental groups to create an “echo chamber” to garner cover for the nuclear deal with Iran. Rhodes stated that his efforts to manipulate media coverage of the deal were made easier by the youth and ignorance of journalists who cover foreign policy.
The implications are appalling. The whole point of having a free (and competent) press is to give the American people the information they need to exercise oversight over their elected (and non-elected) officials. It is one of the essential tools of American self-governance.
Journalists are not the only people who were implicated as a result of Ben Rhodes’s stunning admission. Christian churches and para-church organizations were an important part of the echo chamber that Rhodes created.
Christian organizations such as the National Council of Churches, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Mennonite Central Committee repeated, relayed and affirmed messages that came out of the echo chamber to their supporters. By behaving in such a manner, these institutions did harm to the civil society in which they operate and to their own reputations.
Kate Gould, a lobbyist with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), which describes itself as a “Quaker Lobby,” would like us to believe that she and the organization she works for were not part of the echo chamber Ben Rhodes boasted of creating, but the evidence is overwhelming that they were.
The FCNL enlisted religious leaders from a number of different Christian organizations to sign letters in support of the Iran deal that echoed the talking points that came out of the echo chamber Rhodes said he created. The FCNL also hosted a conference call in which opponents of the deal were depicted as well-funded and dishonest by a State Department spokesperson.
As a result of Gould’s activism, the FCNL and other Christian organizations portrayed those who were opposed to the deal as “rejecting diplomacy in favor of an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program and a new push for war.” This deal-or-war dichotomy was, according to David Samuels, the author of the New York Times piece on Rhodes, one of Rhodes’s most effective talking points.
Gould also promoted the notion that the 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran in 2013 indicated that the country was headed for a more moderate attitude toward the rest of the world. But even Rhodes himself is not so sure that this is the case, a point that became evident in his discussions with Samuels. He’s not “betting on it,” he told Samuels.
Amazingly, Gould argued that the 2013 deal brokered with the Bashar Assad regime in Syria over its chemical weapons stockpile served as a model for negotiations with Iran.
Yikes! According to the Syrian American Medical Society, 77 percent of the chemical-weapons attacks that have taken place in Syria took place after the agreement was signed at the United Nations in 2013.
Maybe the Iran deal is a good thing. But the willingness of Christian organizations to support the effort to demonize opponents of the deal and exaggerate the prospects for reform in Iran—one of the leading practitioners of state-sponsored terrorism (much of it directed at Jews) and a leading proponent of genocidal anti-Semitism in the world—is a shock to those who know church history.
If these church institutions had said, “Yes, we know the Iranian regime is profoundly hostile to Jews and Israel, but we still think this deal is a risk worth taking,” then fine. But instead of promoting an honest assessment of the risks and rewards of negotiating with Iran, these church institutions, under FCNL’s leadership, made such an analysis more difficult.
If Christian leaders are going to roll the dice with Jewish lives and safety, let them do so out in the open, not in secret. And if they can’t do it out in the open, then let them not do it at all.
Dexter Van Zile is a Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.