The Iran Deal was approved in part because of a diverse coalition backing the Obama administration that included liberal Zionists, establishmentarians, and non- and anti-Zionist grassroots folks. Among those pulling on the oars were J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, and the National Iranian American Council.
Now that coalition is beginning to break apart over Israel. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Jewish Democrat who opposed the deal, has put forward legislation he says is an effort to “strengthen the Iran deal” that contains potential poison pills. If the U.S. determines that Iran is sponsoring terrorist activity against its allies, Congress can rapidly impose new sanctions on Iran. And Israel will get a lot more military aid. The bill is co-sponsored by eight senators who are “the most AIPAC-sensitive”, as Jim Lobe writes– attuned to the interests of the Israel lobby. Though many of them supported the Iran Deal.
The National Iranian American Council worked directly with J Street to support the deal. Now it opposes the bill as “obstruction” to the Iran deal. It could lead to another escalation of hostile rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran.
While seven of the Democrats sponsoring the bill supported the agreement, the legislation includes provisions that could prove controversial and provoke a reaction from Iran. The legislation underlines the threat of U.S. military action against Iran, authorizes the President to provide offensive military weaponry to Israel to counter Iran, and establishes a mechanism for the expedited consideration of sanctions legislation for issues outside of the nuclear sphere.
Jewish Voice for Peace has also come out strongly against the bill, as an effort to derail the deal and punish Palestinians for it:
Jewish Voice for Peace strongly opposes the legislation proposed by Senator Ben Cardin (Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015) which threatens to derail diplomacy with Iran, enhance Israel’s capacity to make war and entrench its military occupation. The antagonistic posturing and threat of military action in the legislation risks leading us on the path of increased tensions with Iran at the precise moment of a diplomatic breakthrough. The bill undermines the progress made by the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated between the P5+1 and Iran, and could be a first step to unravel the agreement. Further, given Israel’s violations of human rights and nearly 50 years of military occupation, increasing military aid to Israel is a step in the wrong direction.
Rabbi Joseph Berman, JVP Government Affairs Liaison stated, “Authorizing the President to transfer more weapons to Israel would make Palestinians the losers in the deal with Iran.”
JVP reminds us of why we supported the deal, to turn the page on the special relationship and the neoconservatives and the isolation of Iran:
The passage of the Iran deal marked a historic moment in US foreign policy, demonstrating that advocates of peace and diplomacy can win over the well-financed advocates of war. We urge lawmakers to oppose this unhelpful bill and instead, build upon the progress with Iran by also charting a new course for the Middle East that includes ending decades of repressing Palestinian rights and freedom.
But the liberal Zionist group J Street applauds the Cardin bill and calls on the Jewish community to support it.
We applaud the introduction of legislation… and will lobby for for its passage and enactment into law.
The bill’s provisions closely track the policy prescriptions J Street put forward immediately after last month’s key votes on the accord in Congress. Comprehensive reporting on Iran’s activities, enhancement of the President’s existing non-nuclear sanctions powers and further strengthening already unprecedented US security and intelligence cooperation with Israel are steps that will bolster the agreement and its critical objective of ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
A solid majority of American Jews supported the nuclear agreement, and even those who did not will almost certainly want to see it strictly enforced and Iran’s nefarious activities in the region addressed. We therefore encourage Jewish communal and pro-Israel groups who may have opposed the JCPOA to support this legislation as furthering the essential security interest of the United States, Israel and our partners around the world.
J Street’s reference to the communal and pro-Israel groups is a reminder that the Israel lobby is alive and well, just somewhat reconstituted, no longer in the name of neoconservatives but just good panicky liberal Zionists who will overlook the occupation forever.
The politics of this bill are rightwing/AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) but they are clearly the politics of the Democratic/Obama establishment: the liberal Israel lobby. Jim Lobe reports that the White House has to play ball with Cardin. He quotes an unnamed White House official:
[The official] indicated that the White House prefers to work out ways of ensuring the Israel’s security against any possible Iranian threat directly with the Israeli government rather than being directed by Congress to take certain steps in that regard.
“We appreciate the bill’s focus on enhancing our relationship with Israel and on expanding our efforts to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, and we very much share those goals,” according to the official. “We look forward to working with these senators as the legislative process moves forward.”
In that interview, the official assures Lobe that President Obama will be meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in November. On CNN the other day, Nicholas Burns, a leading establishment voice, said that the United States and Israel need to get on the same page again soon. He tweeted as much:
But #Netanyahu needs close ranks with #Obama and US. Quiet his campaign against Iran nuclear deal.
Democrats for Netanyahu! How many liberal Democrats are going to be cool with that? How many young Jews? As I’ve said before, you can’t put humpty dumpty together again. The Jewish establishment, once fractured, is not going to realign smoothly behind Israel. The war between AIPAC and J Street over the Iran Deal is now going to ramify into a war over Zionism inside the Democratic Party. We see the beginnings of that here. This legislation is likely to go through in some form; the President knows that Cardin has the votes, if Republicans sign on.
But as JVP’s statement shows, this legislation will inevitably turn attention to the near-50-year military occupation, and the slaughter of the Dawabshe family in Duma two months ago and the extrajudicial execution of Hadeel al-Hashlamoun in Hebron two weeks ago. This is not just a human rights issue, but a realists’ issue. The occupation is against the American interest; and the road to peace in the Middle East leads through Jerusalem.
Correction: This post original gave Hadeel al-Hashlamoun’s name as Nadeel. Thanks to Henry Norr for the correction.