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Don’t trade a war on Palestinians for a war on Iran — Berman

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The other day, the Institute for Middle East Understanding, ran an interview with Rabbi Joseph Berman government affairs liaison of Jewish Voice for Peace, who has worked hard for the Iran Deal. The piece was titled The Iranian Deal and the US Jewish Community. IMEU allowed us to republish. 

How would you characterize the reaction of the American Jewish community to the Iran nuclear deal?

A majority of American Jews support the Iran nuclear deal while less than one-third opposes it. This should not be surprising. Organizations like AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Jewish Federations are increasingly out of touch with the American Jews they claim to represent. They are out of touch about the Iran nuclear deal and they are also out of touch when it comes to Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. We see this disparity reflected in the growing support for groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, which is one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in the United States. In the past year JVP has expanded from 40 chapters around the country to more than 60 chapters and from 140,000 members and supporters to over 200,000.

Polls show that a majority of Israeli Jews oppose the deal, while most American Jews support it. Does this disparity reflect a larger rupture between the two groups, and if so, how do you see it affecting support for Israel in the U.S. in the longer term, if at all?

The disparity in support for the nuclear deal with Iran reflects a deeper rupture between American Jews and Israeli Jews. Despite the fact that Israeli leaders, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, like to speak as though they represent all Jews, American Jews have wide ranging perspectives on Israel, Iran and other political issues that stem from differing world views. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deliberate manipulations of the fears and anxieties of Jews in both Israel and the United States has worked with Israeli Jews and some American Jews of a certain generation, those who have imbibed the narrative that the Jewish people are always under attack and believe that military force is the only means to create security. But younger American Jews increasingly recognize that negotiations, diplomacy, and relationships of mutual accountability are the only way to secure relative peace and security. This is not to discount the real threats facing Jews and many others, but war will not provide real salvation or safety.

When it comes to thinking about Israel and the Palestinians, American Jews are increasingly looking to the core values of Judaism. Perhaps the most important Jewish value is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18). Last summer when over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, including 500 children, many of us applied this teaching to the situation in Gaza. This value means that we are obligated to love our neighbor, those who are different than ourselves. In order to love those who are different, we must first love ourselves. I love my fellow Jews in Israel and because I love them I plead with them to stop perpetuating injustice. Second, this value teaches me to love my neighbor as myself. This leads me to be appalled at the situation in Gaza and work for human rights and equality for Palestinians.

There has been much talk recently about Israel becoming a partisan political issue in the U.S., with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party developing close ties with the Republican Party over the past several years. At the same time, polls show that key segments of the Democratic Party and its constituency, including young people, people of color, and Jews, are becoming more questioning and critical of Israeli policies and of US support for Israel.

Do you think Israel has become or is becoming a partisan issue in the US, and do you think we’re witnessing a fundamental shift in the US-Israeli relationship, or are the current differences just a temporary blip?

The shift in the US-Israel relationship has as much to do with Israel’s relationship to Palestinians as it does with Iran. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the US-Israel relationship. Americans who believe in justice, equality, and human rights – including American Jews – are starting to wake up to the fact that US support for Israel’s policies of occupation and segregation run counter to their values. For this reason, Israel is becoming a partisan issue in the United States. However, it will take time for this shift to solidify. Over the coming months we will likely see an attempt by some of our elected officials, including Democrats, to ‘make up’ with AIPAC and Netanyahu.

In fact, we have already seen a push for an increase in United States military cooperation and funding to Israel in exchange for passage of the Iran deal. Israel already receives over $3.1 billion per year from the United States. Last summer, our tax dollars were used to finance Israel’s military aggression in Gaza. Some are currently trying to secure an increase in aid and munitions to Israel that will be used to fund the daily human rights abuses in the West Bank and Israel’s next major offensive against Palestinians.

Congress and the Administration defied the hawkish pro-Israel lobby on Iran. This same moral courage and integrity is needed to end US support for Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise and denial of Palestinian freedom and equality. More and more Americans are standing up to say that we will not trade one war for another war. Nevertheless, we may still be a few years from seeing the courage and integrity from political leaders needed to apply the requisite pressure to force Israel into respecting Palestinian human rights. The daylight between the US and Israel right now is the beginning of a deeper wedge that will continue to grow if Israeli society moves further rightwards and the racism of its policies becomes even more blatant.

Opposition to the Iran deal in the U.S. has been led by groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Zionist Organization of America, which have spent millions of dollars in an attempt to block it. Do you think that AIPAC’s failure to stop the deal has weakened its influence in Congress?

The deal with Iran has made it clear that AIPAC, the arms lobby, Christian Zionists, and war hawks do not have an iron grip on Congress. It is no longer the case – if it ever was – that senators and representatives have to toe the AIPAC line. The passage of the deal demonstrates that grassroots pressure can win over the wealth and power invested by individuals and organizations that choose war over diplomacy.

Mondoweiss Editors

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7 Responses

  1. piotr on September 10, 2015, 4:24 pm

    I would be less optimistic, in shorter perspective, then Rabbi Berman. The iron grip of AIPAC etc. on Congress is still there. But that does not mean that those lobbies can make USA do something impossible or jump in at the deep end. All other members of UNSC and EU made it clear that they prefer a deal, and after very intense negotiations, they accepted it. Our closest important allies (sorry, countries with smaller GNP than Belgium are not particularly important) made it abundantly clear that they will proceed with USA or without USA. Our most important adversaries, Russia and China, also made it clear that they will not cooperate with “war option”, and you cannot isolate Iran from Russia and China. Isolated USA does not have “war option” against Iran, when Iran is not isolated.

    Zionists and neocons have a long term intelligent strategy — intelligent in the sense of being internally consistent. However, it has a fatal flow of being impossible to execute. I want to keep this post short, but one part of the strategy is to keep Iran poor and ignorant until it will have a pro-Western and pro-Israel regime change, perhaps forever.

    By the way of contrast, keeping Gaza and West Bank poor, oppressed and isolated is something that Israel can do pretty much by itself, with a bit of help of fascistic junta in Egypt, so requesting support for that does not have the impossibility stigma, and this support will last quite a while more. However, the battle about the accord with Iran hopefully opened many eyes to deep silliness endemic in Israeli lobby, neo-conia and GOP.

    • JennieS on September 11, 2015, 2:33 am

      Great comment piotr. If this were a bilateral agreement between the US and Iran a Congressional block would have cancelled it, but as you point out, this is a multilateral deal and the other signatories show no signs of backing out so all that Congress could do was to make the USA look ridiculous. In some ways I was hoping that Obama wouldn’t make the numbers so that the limits of American power became obvious (I know that that is unkind to sensible US citizens on or off this site). I just hope that disappointment in the outcome of their lobbying doesn’t lead one of these idiots to initiate WW III by attacking Iran anyway.

    • ziusudra on September 11, 2015, 2:59 am

      Greetings piotr,
      …the iron grip of aipac on congress….
      is held together by shekels.
      Aipac’s invincibility has been shattered
      by Pres. Obama shrugging.
      Now aipac needs all the reps of both houses
      more than they need aipac, hence they will
      go on doling out, whereas the US
      can still get their ‘moonlighting’ bonuses w/o fear
      of standing up for US issues first.
      PS The kings of europe used this practice many times
      over in the past.
      aipac won’t disappear, but it will become costlier for
      them w/o guaranteeing success.

      • piotr on September 11, 2015, 9:17 am

        It is definitely more complicated. First of all, the donations to American campaigns are made by Americans, with USDs, and one could even argue that Israel itself suffers from oversized influence of rich Americans. For example, I did not read about “native Israeli” business tycoons being raving right wingers, as opposed to Adelson and friends.

        Second, American right wing needs imperialism as a wedge issue in internal politics (the liberal wing is weak), so external conflicts are needed and the need to “project power” etc. And like with “war on drugs”, and “war on crime” etc. liberals have this cursed tendency of defending themselves as “no, no! we are not weak, see what we do!”. Their position in those “wedges” is that doing anything more would be silly. Thus a large part of the pro-Israeli posture is “for free”.

  2. piotr on September 10, 2015, 6:46 pm

    A cite I have seen today about “deep silliness”. Donald Trump sometimes talks about things that he knows about, e.g. from his experience as a sponsor of beauty contests (he said something tactless, but accurate), but this is not always the case. “If Israel attacks Iran, I think — of course this wouldn’t happen, it wouldn’t happen with me, with Obama you never know — but we’re supposed to be on Iran’s side if this happens. OK? And nobody knows this and even talks about that point but, basically, we’re supposed to protect them.” While the internal confusion here is definitely Trumpian, it is a good example of a wider phenomenon among non-Jewish Republicans to take AIPAC talking points and somehow garble them and thus remove even appearances of sense.

    ZOA silliness is not inconsistent, but quite false: in, a website published by David Horowitz Freedom Center, there was an original article titled, “Traitor Senators Took Money from Iran Lobby, Back Iran Nukes.” Several senators voting for the accord accepted campaign donations from IAPAC. Accepting donations from AIPAC is of course kosher, but from IAPAC (Iranian-American PAC) it is treason. Hm. Does it mean that campaign finances should not only be consistent with American law, but should also pass tests of Halacha?

  3. yourstruly on September 10, 2015, 9:19 pm

    How to prevent Israel from once again attacking Gaza?

    We pressure Congress to end the special relationship.

    Once isolated Israel won’t dare attack any nation.

    What about AIPAC and the rest of the Israel-firsters?

    We treat them like the losers that they are.


  4. Citizen on September 11, 2015, 3:44 am

    Anybody watch Morning Joe and female side-kick play good cop-bad cop re Iran Deal? Joe of course took the Aipac line & scoffed at the very notion of an Israel Lobby.

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