This has been the summer of the brewing Jewish communal civil war, many years in development but catalyzed by the Israeli government's unprecedented direct interference into domestic American politics this spring and summer. As many of you know, the Obama administration, as part of the P5+1 (which includes Russia and China, no small feat), has concluded an historic nuclear weapons control agreement with Iran. A very useful guide to the Agreement is available from the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
This Agreement, which the Congress has the power to undo, is the focus of the widening chasm within the American Jewish community. Most of the legacy Jewish social service and Zionist organizations are opposed; younger groups and American Jewry in general are in support. References to the destruction of the Second Temple abound, often referring to the tradition that it was "baseless hatred" (sin'at chinam), not the overpowering Roman defeat of the Jewish intifada, that brought about the end. That "baseless hatred" refers to the inability of the Judean community to agree to unite on a strategy for dealing with the Romans. Clearly the inability to unite productively didn't work in the short run 2000 years ago, and wouldn't have had an impact on the Roman Empire anyway, but the seeds of Rabbinic Judaism were planted, leading us through two millennia to today. And whatever side you take today, the debate has become vitriolic and vicious, spiraling out of control with charges of anti-Semitism being flung at the administration and even Jewish supporters of the Agreement.
I believe this Accord is, as has been described by the Administration, dozens of ambassadors, arms control experts and nuclear scientists, the best nuclear weapons control deal ever negotiated. Others are not even close, in terms of inspection and verification. And in terms of the parties to the Agreement, this one is not just between the old adversaries, the United States and the former Soviet Union, but includes the European Powers and China. The Sunni Gulf States stand with the President, even though they are in closer proximity to Iran than Israel. Former Israeli security experts and leaders, free to speak on the subject, are also in support.
The only people opposed are the Israeli government (with a parliamentary majority of one), the Republican Party and, basically, wealthy and right-wing Jewish Republicans. Their opposition boils down to no deal being good enough because Iran, unlike the Sunni nations which have threatened to destroy Israel over the decades, is considered an "existential threat." No evidence has been offered of this existential threat, other than the hyperbole of those who took America into its worst foreign policy debacle in Iraq a little over ten years ago. And, of course, the evidence is highlighted by the absurd statements of former Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a decade ago, whom many want to characterize as a modern day Haman. This claim of an existential threat enables Netanyahu to come into Congress and insult the President, and then to invoke Holocaust guilt on behalf of his lone crusade.
There are moments when I don't believe Netanyahu is serious, as when former Defense Minister Moshe Arens speaks in support of this battle with America in terms of "David and Goliath," and emphasizes its entertainment value. Or when it is suggested that Netanyahu went to Washington to prove he wasn't a "chickenshit," as some claim he's referred to by American officials. Obviously Netanyahu knows that Republicans hate everything about the President, rooted in their racism which allows them to place defeating anything he does above their constitutional obligation to serve the country. He knows that while he can say that Congress accurately represents the American people, it does not, thanks to gerrymandering. He can't claim ignorance about American culture, having grown up here, with attitudes expressed by his former Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, in his recent book, Ally.
And once you have that undivided Republican support (funny how "Trust, but verify" worked for Reagan when we were dealing with a state that had over 7000 nukes, but "Don't trust, but verify" doesn't work against a state with zero nukes because a black President said it), salivating at another opportunity to hurt the President, it's an easy lateral step to get wealthy American Jewish support and the support of organizations that are run by wealth, such as AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Those organizations do not represent the American Jewish community, even though their social services support it. They did not poll their members, and in some cases make Executive Committee decisions influenced by major donors. That they evince no insight into the potentially permanent damage they're doing to the community is absolutely stunning. Jewish Democrats will not forget. Jewish millennials, if they're not already apathetic or pro-BDS, will continue to drift away. What will be left in its place? Is this fake existential threat to a state that has never been stronger and has a deterrence force of nuclear-armed missiles submerged within striking distance of Iran worth the destruction of the remarkable historical unity of the American Jewish community?
Fortunately the Israeli left is finally beginning to speak out, with Tzipi Livni, the Zionist Union's co-leader, demanding a hearing, and calls for an unshackling of the intelligence agencies heating up.
As I've observed the widening chasm and done my part to stand up to the insinuations of disloyalty and charges of having "crossed a line" (by those who are willing to spend $50 million on this campaign to undermine the President and world community and then claim that they're defenseless against old anti-Semitic tropes), I've come to believe there is a more fundamental issue driving this debate.
The growing communal civil war, and the serious deterioration in U.S. - Israeli relations, the worst ever, must have another source, since the Iranian existential threat is a fabrication. Why risk alienating your best friend, most reliable and essential ally, over a figment? The clue is in the above-referenced column written by the editors of Tablet magazine, led by Lee Smith, an editor at the rabidly neo-con publication, the Weekly Standard:
Some of us are less concerned with the specifics of the deal than with the prospect of an American alliance with the theocratic Iranian regime, which the deal appears to be designed to cement.
The opponents clearly don't care about the specifics of the deal, the most comprehensive and enforceable arms control agreement in history, because their analysis of the deal makes no sense. Except, as stated above, in the context of a rapprochement between the U.S. and the theocratic regime in Tehran. They don't trust Muslims - any Muslims - and, therefore, believe that the only response to any such regime is either crushing sanctions or invasion. They don't care that Israel has had dealings with Iran since 1979. They have become more belligerent as the world has become more supportive of diplomacy. Remarkably, they care not a whit that the President was able to bring both Russia and China to impose sanctions AND negotiate this Accord. The world is united for this Agreement today, with the exception of neo-cons at home who managed the Iraq War and right-wingers in Israel who supported it. That says a great deal about their motives. And their absolute distrust of Muslims doesn't stop at the Iranian border, but extends to the "enemy" next door and within.
That "something" which is driving this unprecedented interference of a foreign government in domestic American politics is the nearly half century of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and the growing realization around the world, in general, and the United States, in particular, that Israel has played, and is continuing to play, a major role in the deadlock. I'm not the first Jewish American to worry about the threat to Israeli democracy and its Jewish character and the growing divide between American and Israeli Jews, nor am I the only one to recognize the corrosive effect occupying another people has on a nation, and particularly on its youth who are responsible for administering that enterprise and who have developed new "leaders" of Jewish religious and national extremism.
Netanyahu and his coalition know they're losing the American Jewish community, and they are very aware they're losing the rest of the world as well. The possibility of a UN effort to resolve the conflict has never been greater, nor has the American willingness to pursue it. The insensitive and insulting speech by Netanyahu in Congress, his racist remarks during the election campaign, and his categorical statement that there will not be a two-state solution on their watch, has removed any doubt as to Israel's contribution to the deadlock. Young American Jews will no longer tolerate this discrimination, and regardless of the actions of the legacy organizations, mired in fear and Holocaust guilt, the future is becoming clear. The unity of the Jewish community is a thing of the past, and the deliberate fracturing of that unity by Likud and the extremist to their right was apparently worth a few more years of diversion and distraction from the underlying problem. The Iran situation has only delayed the inevitable.
Regardless of the difficulty in removing settlers, and the pain and violence that will entail, and the risk of a Palestine that could descend into anarchy and terror without the willing assistance of Israel and the international community to assist in nation-building, Israel must act - for the sake of its children and the children of Jewish Americans as well.