Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s very-welcome statement in support of the Iran Deal today includes many references to his Jewishness and his devotion to Israel. He seems most worried that he will be seen as anti-Israel for supporting the deal, that his pro-Israel base will eat him alive for the decision.
Indeed, the New York Times stresses that Nadler is “the lone Jewish member of Congress from the state to back the contested arms-control agreement;” and a well-connected friend says, “Expect a 2016 Democratic Primary with his vote front & center. Nadler has Borough Park, Brooklyn, in his district, the heaviest concentration of Jews anywhere in the U.S.”
Nadler’s statement includes an essay on the “poisonous rhetoric” on both sides of the debate. And he says that he was under pressure on the Iraq war vote of 2002 to vote for Israel by voting for war. Here’s a portion of that essay:
It is no surprise that Jewish members of the House and Senate are likely to be split down the middle in voting to support or reject the [Iran] agreement.
It is with this perspective that I have become increasingly disturbed by the rhetoric being used by some on both sides of the debate….
I am outraged that some on the Left are making anti-Semitic accusations of dual loyalty or treason when someone, particularly a Jewish member of Congress, decides to oppose the agreement. I am also deeply disturbed that some opponents of the agreement have taken to questioning the sincerity of people’s support for Israel (or their “Jewishness”, if it applies) if that person believes the JCPOA is the best option we have for protecting Israel and the world from the threat of Iran as a nuclear weapon state.
Similarly, I disagree with those who suggest that Israel’s government or people must not interfere in seeking to shape American decisions on these issues, and I see such statements as a means of silencing an important part of the discussion. Israel and Israelis have an absolutely legitimate right to be concerned, given the existential threat they face, and to articulate that concern openly within the American political debate. If Iran were allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, that would represent a fundamental threat to the existence of Israel. A single nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv could destroy the homeland of the Jewish people, causing a catastrophic and irrevocable loss of Israeli lives and threatening the existence of our most important ally in the Middle East. Without Israel raising the alarm, the world might not have prioritized this threat and we would be in a weaker position than we are in today to respond to this terrifying question.
I have personally experienced this dangerous dynamic of poisonous rhetoric before, at another moment when opinion was sharply divided and some people placed politics and emotion above clearheaded thinking. When I voted against approving the use of force in Iraq, I did so not only because I was unconvinced by the justifications or arguments being made by the Bush Administration, but because of my understanding of the history and dynamics in the region. As I said at the time, Iran — not Iraq — was the real threat, and if we removed Iraq as a buffer to Iranian influence and expansionism, Israel and the United States would be left to suffer from the consequences. Suffice it to say, I took a lot of criticism for my vote, and both my American patriotism and my commitment to Israel were questioned. What made it even more difficult was the fact that the attacks on 9/11 centered in my district. And while history has proven my decision to have been the right one, the demagoguery is an unfortunate stain on that period.
It was wrong then and it is wrong now to question loyalties or motivations. A decision to support the JCPOA does not make someone anti-Israel. My decision to support the JCPOA is based on my conclusion that the JCPOA makes both the United States and Israel safer. I have been an extremely vocal and unrelentingly strong supporter of Israel for my entire career. I will continue to be so, and refuse to allow anyone to question my long record or my commitment. It is, in large part, because of my support for Israel that I have made the decision I am convinced is the best option for achieving our overriding security imperative.
The great thing about the Iran Deal argument is that a confrontation that was bitterly suppressed during the Iraq war debate is out in the open this time: Is this move good for Israel? If we had had that conversation explicitly the last time, the neoconservatives would have been forced to state– as they have this time around–that Israel’s security was prominent in their thinking. And liberal Zionists would have had to declare on this question; and many would then have come out against the war– as they are coming out for the Iran Deal– by saying, Israel might want this war, but it’s a disaster for the United States.
But of course that argument didn’t happen; and many in the Jewish community went along with the neoconservative agenda because they believed the war would be good for Israel. Jerrold Nadler bravely bucked that trend. I believe support for Israel was a factor in Jeffrey Goldberg, Peter Beinart, Tom Friedman, David Remnick and Ken Pollack’s endorsement of that war.
In that light, read Eli Clifton’s expose of AIPAC’s briefing book from 2002. It called for regime change in Iraq. “As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, any containment of Iraq will only be temporary until the next crisis or act of aggression.” AIPAC is now trying to say it took no position on the Iraq war.