Yes: Painful Political Truths, and Historical Context
The Iranian Nuclear Deal may be unpopular among some Orthodox Jews, but efforts to protest the deal are unwise and may have far-reaching negative consequences.
The best reason to vote “yes” is purely political. That is to say, President Obama already has the votes to win this battle. The strident opposition of Jewish groups in the face of this foregone conclusion will hurt Israel’s long term interests, as well as those of the American Jewish community. Support for Israel, which has been a bipartisan issue for the last 67 years, now risks transformation into a partisan issue. The inflammatory rhetoric used by Jewish groups threatens to polarize the political landscape, erode the bipartisan consensus on Israel, and demonstrate a fundamental unsoundness of judgement that will increase the skepticism and cynicism of reasonable external observers.
Surely, Jewish advocacy groups should have calculated the cost of fighting a losing battle. Perhaps the loss of credibility, time, money and communal energy to a cause that frankly cannot be won, a true lost cause, could be somehow justified or accepted. But the way that this losing battle is being fought will undermine the long-term political viability of bipartisan support for Israel, undermine the reach of Jewish political groups, and undermine the credibility of individuals who support Israel. What benefits outweigh these costs?
Shlomo HaMelech said, “A wise man has eyes in his head” (Kohelet 2:14). Chazal said, “Who is wise? One who sees the results” (Tamid 32a). Other cultures offer similar wisdom. Sun Tzu said, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but a few.” The aphorism “look before you leap,” had it been heeded, would have saved us much communal pain and embarrassment.
If there was a time for Rabbis and Rabbinical students to march on Washington, it was 10 years ago. Then, if the same amount of effort had been put into Iran then as was put into the rescue of Soviet Jewry, it is reasonable to suppose that a bipartisan consensus might have emerged that would have made the settlement now under consideration by the Senate a nonstarter. Furthermore, such bipartisan consensus may very well have enabled American negotiators with Iran to drive a tougher deal.
The sudden, far too-late expenditure of so much political capital shows a lack of proper planning and leadership on behalf of major Jewish institutions. Without proper deliberation, they have created much sound and fury, and will certainly not achieve their stated goals. The lack of reflection can be seen in the shortsighted attacks by Jewish political groups on cherished long-time supporters of Israel.
Is it possible that there are ulterior motives here? Is it at all possible that a certain level of hysteria is being whipped up by Republicans who would like to drive a wedge through the Democratic Jewish voting bloc by politicizing the previously bipartisan support for Israel? And is it possible that what is good for the Republican party might not be good for Israel, especially in the long run? Such a hypothesis makes far more sense than the knee-jerk response by those who urge a veto override, and may explain why we are not seeing a more calculated or effective response.
Many reasonable observers will find it difficult to trust Jewish institutional groups in the future simply because of their demonstrated lack of ability to reasonably assess the pros and cons of political action. This lack of calculation becomes more obvious when one considers that even among American Jews, opponents have not managed to build consensus against the Iranian deal. Even within the Orthodox world, we ought to be troubled by the politicization of our religious institutions, such as the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America, for shamefully allowing reputedly religious, apolitical organizations to be co-opted by narrow, partisan purposes. If the OU and RCA are indeed groups only for Republican Orthodox Jews then we have seen a communal failure of these groups, and the long-term damage resulting from this unnecessary and inappropriate partisanship has yet to be assessed or considered. Yet, I warn that it cannot be a good thing.
It would be a different situation altogether if a majority of American Jews agreed that this agreement was a bad, even terrible decision, for the best interests of United States. In that case, we would be justified in arguing against it, using all lawful means of political expression and protest. It is thus ironic that a compelling foreign policy argument that can be made to justify the existence of this foreign policy decision by the United States.
After all, what do the five permanent members of the UN Security council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany agree about Iran? That Iran’s nuclear ambitions must be held in check. For that reason, since 2006 the P5+1, in response to the UN Atomic Energy Commission's reports, pursued a strategy of sanctions whose purpose is to force Iran to the negotiating table. UN Security Council Resolutions Nos. 1696 , 1737, 1747, 1803, 1929, 1984, 2049, all passed between 2006 and 2012, reflecting strong international consensus imposing trade embargoes on bringing weapons and nuclear enrichment technology into Iran.
In contrast, America’s foreign policy strategy has been punitive, using a wide variety of financial sanctions against Iran, beginning in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when President Jimmy Carter signed Executive Order 12170 in November 1979 freezing about $12 billion in Iranian assets. It is clear that US sanctions alone have not, and will not, accomplish regime change, no more than the our long embargo of Cuba. Wishful thinking cannot cloud our judgement on communal, national, and international issues, and therefore America ought to take advantage of this chance to accomplish one concrete goal: preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
America’s foreign policy goal of opposing Iran by all means, in all theaters, has been our lonely cause in the international stage for the past 36 years. In contrast, international consensus of all the world powers, including China, Russia, and Germany, has only built up since 2006 around the limited issue of stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Under the current agreement, Iran will be held responsible by all of the world powers, were it to pursue obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is hardly irresponsible of America to take advantage of this rare crystallization of international consensus by preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Critics of the agreement correctly point out that it is not perfect, which seems to mean that all of America’s demands were not met. That is certainly true, yet those same critics do not engage in the intellectually honest exercise of considering the alternative, war, or of justifying the steep costs in blood and treasure of that alternative. Unlike war, negotiation cannot force another country to conform to our will, and the results will necessarily not satisfy all of our demands. But those who wish to avoid war must acquaint themselves with the taste of compromise.
The author, a Yeshiva College student, has asked to remain anonymous due to the fact that this political issue, while certainly worthy of open and honest debate, has already seen far too many personal attacks by both sides.