(April 9, 2015 / JNS)
Two more prominent voices from the left, one in Israel and one in the American Jewish community, are challenging President Barack Obama’s deal with Iran. The right-left consensus on Iran is broadening almost daily.
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak told CNBC on April 8 that Obama and the rest of the Free World must “stand firm” and send a “clear message” to the Iranians that “either you agree once and for all to dismantle your nuclear military program—or else.”
Barak has been regarded warmly by the Israeli and Jewish left, and the Obama administration, because he reportedly once offered the Palestinians a state in all of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. But he is not toeing the administration’s line when it comes to the Iranian threat.
In the CNBC interview, Barak challenged Obama’s claim that military action against Iran would require a full-scale war. “Now, the administration uses the term ‘war’ and people are probably thinking it’s something like a war on Iraq or a war on Afghanistan—it’s not the case,” Barak said. The U.S., he said, possesses “extremely effective means of destroying the Iranian nuclear military program over a fraction of one night, in an operation which is much closer on the spectrum between the war on Iraq and the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s much closer to killing Osama Bin Laden, and it’s something that should be understood—the Iranians can do nothing about it except for attacking Israel.”
“All of us prefer a solution that might be through negotiations,” Barak added, “but to negotiate—the other side should understand and believe, not just ‘fake-believe’—he should understand and strongly believe that if they will not come to terms with the real demands to put all the enriched material out of Iran, to close [the underground nuclear facility at] Fordo, to stop all work on weaponization, on making preparations for a weapon—if all this is not agreed right now they face the alternative.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who was president of the Union for Reform Judaism for 16 years until 2012, has challenged the Iran deal in the pages of Haaretz. In an April 8 op-ed, Yoffie argued, “Even Obama admirers, such as myself, will not be cheering this particular agreement with Iran. Part of the reason is that it is not a very good deal. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure remains in place, the Iranians have walked away from long-standing commitments, and the Americans have compromised on long-standing demands.”
“The president argues that the deal offers the best possible means to assure Israel’s security,” Yoffie noted. “The problem is that he is not convincing. His explanation of what will happen if Iran cheats is convoluted and even embarrassing; even the non-expert knows that what he is proposing, at this stage at least, cannot be counted on to work.”
“Most U.S. Jews… know that Iran is an Israel-hating, Holocaust-denying theocracy, and the patron of Hezbollah and other radical groups that are in the business of killing Jews,” wrote Yoffie. “When in doubt about whether to trust virulently anti-Semitic nations and leaders, the general rule is: don’t.”
Barak’s strong words come on the heels of a series of statements against the Iran deal by other leading voices on the Israeli left. The Labor Party, which along with Hatnuah formed the Zionist Union alliance ahead of Israel’s March 17 election, issued a press release on April 2 criticizing the deal. Labor MK Eitan Cabel elaborated on his Facebook page, “I refuse to join those applauding the agreement with Iran, because the truth is it keeps me awake at night. President Obama promises that if the Iranians cheat, the world will know, but isn’t that exactly what the Americans promised after the agreement with North Korea?”
Haaretz editor Aluf Benn, himself a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past, wrote on April 5 that Netanyahu’s call for the international community to insist that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist was taken directly from the campaign rhetoric of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. Israeli left-wing author Ari Shavit, writing for Politico on April 2, called Obama’s deal “a terrible historic mistake.”
It has been a tough month for Jewish defenders of the Iran deal. Their effort to sell the deal to American Jews has run smack into a growing right-to-left consensus among Israelis that the deal is a disaster. It’s easy enough to call Netanyahu names. But will the deal’s supporters now claim that Isaac Herzog, Ehud Barak, and Ari Shavit—not to mention Rabbi Eric Yoffie—are also secret Republicans or Muslim-bashers or war-mongers?
Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of Philadelphia, and both are current candidates on the Religious Zionist Slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.